A Walk In The Woods DVD Review

DVD Review by Jon E Clist

The Premise
In this new comedy adventure, celebrated travel writer, Bill Bryson, instead of retiring to enjoy his loving and beautiful wife, and large and happy family, challenges himself to hike the Appalachian Trail - 2,200 miles of America's most unspoiled, spectacular and rugged countryside from Georgia to Maine. The peace and tranquility he hopes to find, though, is anything but, once he agrees to being accompanied by the only person he can find willing to join him on the trek - his long lost and former friend Katz, a down-on-his-luck serial philanderer who, after a lifetime of relying on his charm and wits to keep one step ahead of the law - sees the trip as a way to sneak out of paying some debts and sneak into one last adventure before it’s too late. The trouble is, the two have a completely different definition of the word, "adventure". Now they're about to find out that when you push yourself to the edge, the real fun begins.

The Review
Bill Bryson is certainly one of most well-known travel writers of the modern era. So it kind of goes without saying that at some stage one of his autobiographical books would end up on the big screen. Bryson’s book was optioned in 1998 as a project to team Robert Redford and Paul Newman together for the third time (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting). However, years of hurdles getting the film made and Newman's declining health before his death in 2008 ended the potential Redford and Newman reunion. Newman was intended for the role Nick Nolte plays in the film.

A Walk In The Woods is certainly a nice humorous story that shows the craziness of man as he grows old and somewhat insecure in that manhood. You grow older and as you find yourself doing less, you hunger for something to do that will demonstrate that ability and desire to still achieve something in life. That hunger can often drive us to try things that in normality would seem a little on the daft side. Yet watching this film the main comment of the audience around me after was, “Oh now I really feel like going on a hike”. Potentially though people aren’t really thinking about a hike of over two thousand miles.

Yet that kind of demonstrates the emotional effect the film has on you from a visual point of view. The film is beautifully made and delightfully shot in such a manner as to highlight a stunning part of the American landscape. I would be very tempted to say that the landscape was the leading character of the film if it weren’t for the wonderful Nick Nolte. Styled as just like his police mugshot of a decade ago, Nolte comes to the story as Stephen Katz, a dishevelled man from Bryson’s past. As they come together to do something quite massive, you can see how differently they have progressed in life. While both had experienced the wild life of overseas adventure, only one of them had moved on to settle down and make a normal and successful life for themselves. Katz is still living loose and free and at least from a visual point of view, he is suffering the results of such a life.

I think that this gritty nature of the character is what endears you to him and juxtaposed against the straight-laced conservative nature of Redford’s Bryson and you have this wonderful dynamic within a story that shows the divergence of two ways of life. Leading to the mutual respect that in turn helped the flow of the storyline. Robert Redford, Emma Thompson, Nick Nolte, Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen round out the cast perfectly and help to balance the occasional lack of decent storyline with a nice collection of quirky characters that bounce along the track.

Certainly one of the core things that came up in conversation with a friend (Who had read the book) after the screening was the massive percentage of events added into the storyline for the movie. So many aspects of their journey apparently did not appear in the book and based on Bryson’s style of writing I can’t imagine he would have just left them out awaiting a movie version. There is a scene that appears in the film and the trailer (therefore not really a spoiler) that shows them facing bears in the night. In the book they hear a noise outside their tent; they never actually confirmed it was a bear. Also in the trailer and on even on the poster, Bryson and Katz are seen standing at McAfee Knob, a popular Appalachian Trail destination near Catawba, Virginia. In real life, according to the book, Bryson and Katz left the trail in Tennessee and re-joined near Roanoke, Virginia. They never passed by McAfee Knob.

The Verdict
This is a lovely safe, fun film that explores growing old. Perhaps lacking in its teeth and hence not really having the bite that other similar styled films had, yet still an enjoyable night out.

The Trailer

The Info
DVD Releases: 13th January 2016
Rating: M – Contains Offensive language and sexual references
Duration: 105 minutes 
Genre:  Adventure
Starring: Robert Redford, Emma Thompson, Nick Nolte, Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen
Director: Ken Kwapis (Miracle, License to Wed)

The Extras
The Appalachian Trail runs from Georgia to Maine and is over 2180 miles long. It passes through 14 states and is maintained by volunteers and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.