Would you want to go on a hike with Nick Nolte?
Walking into the cinema...
Bill Bryson's life on the silver screen. It will be interesting to see if the film is as good as the book.
Overall Rating: 2.75 stars
Cinematic rating: 2.5 stars
Bigger questions rating: 3.5 stars
There are few authors like Bill Bryson. He has written about things from life in Des Moines, Iowa to Australia to the origins of the world. He has far reaching appeal, but very few of his books seem conducive to a cinematic release, except for the semi-autobiographical, A Walk in the Woods. A comedic look at the mid-life crisis excursion he and a friend took along the 2,168 miles that run along the eastern mountain ranges of the United States that are called the Appalachian Trail. As the story goes, he is motivated to get out and hike the trail, but not all of his family members are happy with his decision. His wife, Catherine (Emma Thompson), tries to dissuade him from this misguided attempt to find himself, but resolves to support him if he can find someone to go with him. After being rejected by most of his friends and even distant acquaintances, he comes back into contact with Katz (Nick Nolte). He is a negligible friend from his past who is known for his willingness to be part of any adventure, but has had a tough run at life and may have ulterior motives for joining Bryson (Robert Redford) on the trip. What was meant to be a tranquil, self-actualising journey, becomes a comedy of errors that plays against the picturesque backdrop of the Appalachian mountains. It becomes a trek that will stretch their physical abilities, their emotional limits and their purpose for living.The challenge of reviewing a film that is based on a beloved book is to remain focused on the cinematic rendering opposed to comparing it to the book. The film has to take artistic license with timelines and characters for the benefit of getting this into cinemas. On its own merits, A Walk in the Woods is a ‘coming of age, again’ film that is reflective of any hiking campaign, it is slow and methodical with bursts of humorous situations. Director Ken Kwapis (The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants) manages to capture the walking journey and provides the human drama that leads to a softer side and the humorous components of Bryson’s story. The primary strengths of the film are found in the God-given landscapes of the trail and the supporting characters. The majestic scenery provides the canvas for Kwapis’ creation and adds a richness to the visual experience. The rest of the journey benefits from a host of characters that are met along the way and add the needed spice to this meandering narrative. Nick Nolte was a brilliant addition to this trekking partnership. He physically and theatrically captures the character of the familiar friend that most of us love, but can only handle in small doses. Nolte's acting prowess provides the saving grace of the film.
Kwapis does get the supporting cast members right, but the element that fails the story is the inclusion of Robert Redford. With respect to the longevity of Redford's career as an actor and director, this performance felt like he is someone well past his prime. Trying not to reflect too much on the book, but knowing Bryson’s age in the book, Redford was too old for the lead character. He does deliver the elitist, curmudgeon-type feel that is synonymous with Bryson’s personality, but his believability in the role comes a few years to late in his career. This miscast is not enough to completely derail the film, it still manages to be a comical tale of two old friends making their way along the trail and life. Beautifully reflective and methodical would be the best way to describe this interpretation of the book. Like any hike, it is enjoyable, but does feel like long stretches of nothing between the interesting bits.
In amongst the humour and scenery of A Walk in the Woods, the introspective nature of the film is hard to miss. At one point in the journey, Bryson and Katz are stuck on a ledge over a valley. By looking out on the nighttime sky, they consider the size and scope of the universe and Bryson says, 'And we are small.' This interchange between the friends was a dose of reality for both men and causes them to appreciate that in amongst the vastness of the universe they need to be thankful for the life they had been given. In this journey of life, many may come to this point, too. Realising how insignificant this life may be in light of eternity, but with that the life that has been given to us all, albeit small, thankfulness might be the best response to the gift of this life.
Leaving the cinema...
It has its weaknesses and the language is a bit excessive, but in the end, A Walk in the Woods is worth the time. Do not go in expecting groundbreaking cinema, but a fun, lackadaisical walk on the Appalachian Trail. If you enjoy the movie, you will love the book.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
1. What does the Bible have to say about difficult times? (John 16:33, Romans 5:3-5)
2. Why should we be thankful for our lives? (Psalm 107:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:18)
3. Why do we get old? (Genesis 3)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #Awalkinthewoods