A Walk in the Woods (2015)
Directed by Ken Kwapis
Produced by Chip Diggins, Bill Holderman, Russell Levine, Robert Redford, etc.
Based on the book by Bill Bryson
Screenplay by Rick Kerb, Bill Holderman
Cinematography by John Bailey
Edited by Julie Garces, Carol Littleton
Broad Green Pictures
Rated R for language
When people begin discussing the new film A Walk in the Woods, the elephant in the room (or the bear in the woods, if you prefer) becomes obvious to anyone familiar with the popular Bill Bryson travelogue: Why make this into a movie 17 years after the book was published?
The answer is Paul Newman. Robert Redford was interested in reuniting with Newman for the film, but Newman’s failing health kept the project from being realized. That’s a real shame. There’s at least one scene in the film that’s tailor-made for Newman-Redford, recalling a moment from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Alas, what could’ve been… But now in 2015 we finally get the film with Redford and Nick Nolte (an actor I thought actually was dead).
Anyone who’s read the book knows that Bill Bryson and Stephen Katz are in their mid-40s when they start their Appalachian Trail adventure. Redford and Nolte are both in their 70s.
Things are not looking good…
But all is not lost. (No Redford movie pun intended.) Screenwriters Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman rewrite the story as a sort of “old guys reflect on aging” movie, which actually has its moments. Nolte provides a few laughs and the scenery is occasionally nice, but for the most part, the film is a waste of time and talent.
Emma Thompson (as Bryson’s wife) does all she can with her role, but how many times and how many ways can she tell Bryson “This trip is a bad idea”? (She’s right, by the way, in more ways than one.) Also I was delighted to see Mary Steenburgen (below, left) in an all-too-brief appearance that unfortunately goes nowhere.
Many scenes simply start and stop with little sense of focus or completion, much less payoff. We never get the sense that the characters are ever in any real danger, a feeling that’s heightened by the use of some awful nature-manipulation special effects – especially with color – that look completely unnatural.
The biggest offender here is the script. The jokes, by and large, aren’t funny, many of the scenes don’t go anywhere, and there’s little to engage us along the way, other than two veteran actors trying to make the best of some weak writing. These guys deserve better and so does Bryson. If you want a good story, just read Bryson’s book. The film version of A Walk in the Woods is a journey to be avoided.