Review: ‘A Walk in the Woods’ Takes a Walk off a Cliff

Evan Slead ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Movies Editor

Robert Redford in A Walk in the Woods. Photo Credit: Broad Green Pictures.
Robert Redford in A Walk in the Woods. Photo Credit: Broad Green Pictures.
Utilizing the acting talents of Hollywood’s first century’s stars is a choice that should be a no brainer. The recent megastar of Marvel Studios has been embracing classic talent with choosing actors like Michael Douglas and Robert Redford to support their films. Redford has been a welcome sight back on the screen, especially since his latest run included Captain America: The Winter Soldier and All is Lost. Sadly it seems that this fresh start has already encountered a severe right turn. Director Ken Kwapis has some amazing works under his belt, mostly in television, including the “Galentine’s Day” episode of Parks and Recreation. His latest film, in team with Redford, called A Walk in the Woods is a bland experience that also manages to be awkward somehow. The premise of the story is designed to show individuals in the third act of their life find new meaning and understanding. Ironically the decision to sit and view the film feels like the wrong choice to make.
The film revolves around Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) who is a successful writer that has recently moved back to the United States with his wife. Catherine Bryson (Emma Thompson) loves her life and family, but she sees a clear disconnect between her husband and their new life in New England. Bill ultimately decides that a trip of a lifetime is the pick me up that he needs to kick start his passions. After Catherine insists that he not take the trek alone, Bill contacts all of his former travel buddies in the hopes of finding a companion. One day he receives a call from Katz (Nick Nolte), an old traveling friend from Iowa. Catherine expresses her worry of having Katz join Bill on the Appalachian Trail and its arduous trials. The itch to conquer the trail overpowering his desire to follow his wife’s advice, Bill pulls Katz along the beginning of the hike and into a journey they might not forget.
Nick Nolte, Kristen Schaal, and Robert Redford in A Walk in the Woods. Photo Credit: Broad Green Pictures.
Nick Nolte, Kristen Schaal, and Robert Redford in A Walk in the Woods. Photo Credit: Broad Green Pictures.
What plagues this film is that the premise never really reaches the heights that it easily could have if the script was given more attention. Two older men hiking one of the most famous cross country trails should be filled with comic gold and a heartfelt story underlining it all. What audiences are given are several scenes where the lead stars are clearly not on set and just providing voice over work to suffice. Even when the actors are onscreen there’s a spark missing that makes it all seem like a collection of scenes from a film that was never meant to be released. A studio backup script that could have been set in any time, place, and starring anyone they needed. When the film does hit moments of comedy they are often misogynistic and downright yawn inducing. At one point a woman asks for help pulling a pair of panties out of a washing machine; an act that Nolte’s character is more than enthusiastic to participate in. However from that point on the woman is used as the crux of a joke about her “disgusting” look. A dropped subplot involves Mary Steenburgen as a lonely motel owner. There is an obvious attraction between her character and married Bill, but it seems that the only reason that he doesn’t have relations with her is because they run away from the motel. The entire beginning of the film reveals the deep love that Thompson’s character has for Bill, which in turn makes this idea of an affair feels forced and completely unnecessary.
The reason this film feels frustrating is because it displays its potential on a platter and then covers it with an impenetrable dome. Redford and Nolte seem completely unaware of what the trajectory of the story was supposed to be. Thompson and Steenburgen also seem to only be there to remind audiences that they deserve better material to serve their acting skills. While the film does have a few chuckles sprinkled throughout, the rest of the ride is slow and filled with confusing scenes.
Overall Grade: C-
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