A Walk In The Woods

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

An ageing travel writer sets out to hike the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail with a long-estranged high school buddy. Along the way, the duo face off with each other, nature, and an eccentric assortment of characters. Together, they learn that some roads are better left untraveled.
"One of the hardest things to find to recommend to people is a good mainstream film, not aimed at children, that involves no violence or untimely death - this is a charming example of that rare breed, may they never become extinct."

Reading a Bill Bryson book is like taking a stroll with an old friend. There's banter and banality and thoughts on life but also a sense of learning along with him. He is that rare breed of travel writer, who doesn't map out the journey with philosophical points or a learning curve but just seems to let his observations grow organically as he goes.

Bill Holderman and Michael Arndt approach their screenplay with the same generosity of spirit and it is bolstered further by Ken Kwapis' easygoing direction and a good sense of when to let the beauty of nature step into the foreground. Robert Redford, well known for being a pretty shy guy himself, slips into the role of Bryson as though it was a familiar pair of hiking boots, capturing the humour of the man but also his slight reticence and bookishness. Emma Thompson, meanwhile, dives into the part of his English wife. She is the supportive, long-suffering sort who, on being told he plans to tackle the gruelling 2000 or so miles of the Appalachian Trail, assembles a cuttings collection of all the ways he might die on the journey and asks, "Can't you just do this in the Volvo?".

As this is not a short, the answer is no, but at her insistence he agrees to take along a buddy, little expecting his old sparring partner Stephen Katz to volunteer. Nick Nolte is in full shambling scarecrow mode as Katz. A wheezer with a trick knee, he looks as though he might expire walking up the drive let alone along the trail, but the pair set off regardless. What follows is a gentle examination of friendship and man's relationship with himself, others and nature, although these ideas are part of the scenery, with knock-about humour the main event. Whether it is visual gags, such as the pair of them taking on a couple of bears with little more than a shriek and a tent or the comic characters they meet on the way - such as hiker Mary "You're doing it wrong" Ellen, played with plenty of spark by Kristen Schaal - the laughs are never very far away.

One of the hardest things to find to recommend to people is a good mainstream film, not aimed at children, that involves no violence (the worst it gets here is door hammering) or untimely death - this is a charming example of that rare breed, may they never become extinct.

Reviewed on: 25 Jan 2015
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A travel writer and a friend he hasn't seen for years embark on the Appalachian Trail.
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Director: Ken Kwapis

Writer: Michael Arndt, Bill Bryson, Bill Holderman

Starring: Nick Offerman, Emma Thompson, Kristen Schaal, Mary Steenburgen, Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Chrystee Pharris, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Derek Krantz, Linds Edwards, Tucker Meek, Fred Galle, John Kap, Walter Hendrix III, Hayley H. Long

Year: 2015

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2015

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