On paper, a film about two pensioners going on a hike is, without a shadow of a doubt, a film that would never hit my radar. Not that I would actively avoid watching a movie like A Walk in the Woods, but I would much prefer to only use the edge of my cinema seat for a good thriller or come out with my ears bleeding from that insane volume and a ton of explosions. That being said, with not an awful lot to do on a Friday after work and a screening at my local with just enough time to grab a Starbucks beforehand, this evening I watched a film about two guys chatting and walking.
Robert Redford is Bill Bryson, an author whose time has been spent writing books on his travels around the world, but for the last few years, he’s been spending, or wasting, his time at home watching his books gather dust and feeling old. After an annoying, abrasive TV interview and yet another funeral, Bryson goes for a walk and finds himself inspired to walk the 1,100 mile Appalachian trail that stretches between Georgia and Maine. After his wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) reads up on the risks of the walk and the things that can go wrong, she insists he finds a partner to do the walk with; a real issue for a man whose friends are all the same pension drawing age that he is, or dead, and don’t want to die in the forest! Enter Nick Nolte’s Stephen Katz, a friend from Bill’s past who volunteers to walk the trail with the author.
Katz is one of those friends everyone’s dad has; he’s got seedy stories about your old man’s past and a few tales that no-one wants to hear. And we all had that friend didn’t we? For me, it’s the guy whose name causes my wife’s eyes to roll because she knows I won’t come home in one piece! Stephen Katz is the perfect bodiless of all those friends and now he’s following Bill Bryson around in the woods. The pair make their way to the start of the walk in Georgia and after a night in a nice hotel, they head off uphill and begin the adventure that will see them spending a few months together in the woods. The old friends go up against Mother Nature as they try their hardest to walk the thousand mile trail through wind, rain and snow; coming up against bears and weirdos as the bonding experience takes them to their limits.
There’s not much to say about A Walk in the Woods if I’m honest. It’s a comedy adventure films that is perfectly suited to a good Sunday matinee. There’s little drama, a slight hint of peril and a whole lot of walking. I mean, if it wasn’t for Nick Nolte’s constant swearing, it’d be a family film about two mates going for a walk. Like Homeward Bound, but with real people. The pair have great chemistry and there’s a real sense that they like each other throughout the whole film, these two guys that have grown apart and gone on to lead completely different lives have come back together after so many years and can still spend that much time in each other’s company without killing themselves. Even when the inevitable arguments happen, it’s over in a flash and they are back to laughing and joking.
And man! The laughing! Robert Redford is great as the sensible and determined Bill Bryson, but Nick Nolte is absolutely the star of the show. Every single thing that comes out of his mouth is pure gold; from the smut to the insults, his character is a comedy genius and I genuinely laughed myself stupid throughout the whole thing. Every story Stephen Katz has, and every time he shuts down Bryson’s know-it-all attitude is a beautiful moment and you can’t not love Nolte for the performance he puts on. Once you add the brilliantly funny cameos from people like Nick Offerman and Kristin Schaal, the film really shines as a comedy and I happily sat and giggled my way through the whole thing.
A Walk in the Woods is a buddy cop comedy, but the cops are retired and bored and looking for something to do. It’s got no explosions, no guns, no kidnappings, no murders and no nudity; but what it does have is charm, wit and a brisk feeling 100 minute run time. It’s a breath of fresh air with all the loud explody films we get to experience. You can chill out for a couple of hours, watch old men make awkward sex jokes and come out good and relaxed. And while I know I haven’t helped my image of being an old man in a thirty-something year old’s body at all, the film did inspire me. No, I don’t want to walk the damn Appalachian trail, it’s not that life affirming a film, I just want to grow up to be Nick Nolte.