Redford and Nolte Team Up to Tackle the Appalachian Trail Without Getting Lost in the Woods

Director: KEN KWAPIS/2015

Walk in the Woods is the story of author Bill Bryson (Robert Redford-Capt. America: The Winter Soldier, All is Lost, The Natural) who has written books about his travels and adventures, but for decades had never written about his homeland of America.  When challenged by a Boston reporter on a morning show segment celebrating the author’s classic books being released into a box set, Bill has no answer as to why he has never written about the place he calls home.

Upon returning to his New England home, he finds it difficult to settle back into his comfortable routine.  Taking a small hike not far from his home, he stumbles onto an actual part of the Appalachian Trail.  He begins to research and decides that his life is missing something despite the success he has professionally and personally.  There has been no adventure for Bill after settling down and marrying his wife Catherine (Emma Thompson-Saving Mr. Banks, Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually), an English nurse, and living in England for over 10 years, before returning to the States to teach at the college level.

Bill reaches out to nearly every friend he has, asking them to join him in walking the entire Appalachian Trail.  His wife is against this idea, as she believes Bill has nothing to prove.  With no responses from his friends, she believes that this matter will die off.  That is until Bill is contacted by an old and unlikely friend that he did not reach out to, Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte-Warrior, Hotel Rwanda, 48 Hours), who is more than willing to have another adventure with his old friend.

The trailer for the film does a great disservice to this story seeking to sell it as a buddy comedy alaThe Odd Couple meets Grumpy Old Men on a hiking and camping adventure.  While there are some elements of two individuals with a history having some moments of conflict, this story is in no way in the same vein as the aforementioned titles.  This is a story of rediscovery and reconnection.  Bill Bryson has lost something along his life’s journey that he desperately needs to reconnect with.

Fortunately, this does not involve a radical departure of who he is, or a midlife crises where one throws off the cherished parts of his life because he believes them to now be a shackle.  Instead, it is refreshingly cast as a commitment to try something new that enables one to push through the challenge to see if they are still the person they once were, and hopefully an even wiser version than they believes themselves to be. It is sort of the polar opposite of rediscovery on a hike than what Reese Witherspoon’s Wild was.

Stephen and Bill have two distinct personalities, but Redford and Nolte are able to portray their characters in a way that truly gives you a glimpse of what the adventures of their much younger selves would have truly been like.  And despite the film being about self-reflection, there are some laugh-out-loud moments that truly fit the overall theme and feel of the larger story.  Kristen Schaal (Mel from Flight of the Conchords) provides much of the set-up to some of the funnier moments of their hike. She also may be one of the most cringe-inducing characters you’d ever want to encounter on such a walk, and she lights up the screen whenever she is on it….even when she is saying nothing at all!

With a strong supporting cast that includes Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation, In a World…), Kristen Schaal, and Mary Steenburgen (who is now the pixie dream girl for the senior crowd following this and last year’s Last Vegas), A Walk in the Woods is well grounded.

Director Ken Kwapis, whose last travelogue-based film involved The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, keeps things moving down the trail at a steady pace, stopping to enjoy the beauty of the landscape along the way.  And there is some beautiful scenery throughout this journey. This film allows us to enjoy the journey, have some laughs, and long for our return home, much life the story of Bill Bryson whose real-life book inspired the film.  All in all, Redford and Nolte are a good pair of actors to have A Walk in the Woods with.