Monday, 29 May 2017

Film Review #99

A Walk in the Woods (2015)
Director: Ken Kwapis Starring: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Kristen Schaal, Nick Offerman, Mary Steenburgen, Emma Thompson

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 104 Minutes

Tagline: "When you push yourself to the edge, the real fun begins."

Bill Bryson has been travelling all over the world and, as detailed in his many superb travel books, has experienced all manner of wonders during his time in places like Africa, Australia, his native US, and all around Europe, so I suppose it's a little ironic that the only film about his travels (to the best of my knowledge) is based on perhaps the least exotic of them all. He is portrayed by Robert Redford and we catch up with him in New Hampshire where he has been living with his British wife Catherine (Thompson) for twenty years after a decade or so living in the UK. Now in his 60's he is effectively retired but also somewhat restless, and after a short stroll on the Appalachian Trail which passes near his home, he suddenly decides he wants to hike its entire length.

This probably doesn't sound like a particularly noteworthy pursuit at first, even for an old coot, but the trail is actually around 2,200 miles of frequently challenging terrain through the Appalachian Mountains and would be a formidable feat for ramblers of any age or physical ability! Of course, everyone calls him crazy for even thinking about it, even his wife who's well used to his tomfoolery after all their years together. She gives her blessing but only if he goes with a companion in tow. His efforts to find someone almost derail his attempt before it has begun, however, with all his old friends and acquaintances turning him down (while also questioning his sanity). Close to giving up, he's then contacted by Stephen Katz (Nolte), an old friend he hasn't seen in donkey's years, who offers to accompany him.

Problem solved then! That is until he actually sees Katz again who is about the same age as him but is now far less physically capable. Nonetheless, they gather their kit and cautiously set off! There's only so much preparation a couple of inexperienced old codgers can do though, and their long journey is unsurprisingly an eventful one with their unsuitability for it quickly becoming apparent. It's also a very picturesque journey though - so much so, in fact, that it makes such a journey seem like a highly appealing prospect and worth any hardships the famous trail might be able to throw at you, imagined or otherwise, and even a hairy wheezing cantankerous old galoot like Katz keeping you on your toes couldn't put a dampener on an experience like that. Hopefully.

I don't personally know that much about the real Bill Bryson, and even less about his friend, so I can't really say how close the performances of Redford and Nolte are, but it certainly seems like they had a memorable hike. For us viewers, though, as a film, it isn't really quite as captivating as it should be. Both the leads are charming enough but not that much actually happens. I guess that's no one's fault - adding a ninja attack or a plane crash or something would probably be exciting but not terribly realistic, nor in keeping with the real story. Some slightly less dramatic things do happen, of course, including an amusing/annoying know-it-all woman (Schaal) who insists on tagging along with them at one point, and a cuckolded husband hunting down Katz in a scene reminiscent of Alexander Payne's Sideways, but I kind of expected more.

As mentioned though, the scenery is perhaps worth seeing the film for alone, which ranges from nice to breathtaking. Appropriately, it's the kind of film that makes you want to do the same thing yourself. You'd have to be pretty wealthy of course, and have an understanding boss if you weren't retired, as hiking the entire trail takes a good few months. Whether it makes suitable source material for a film is debatable but it definitely reminds us of the wonders our planet still holds and makes a trip through some of it look very appealing indeed. It's not quite as engaging a film as you might expect one fronted by Redford and Nolte to be, but it's great to see them again, with the latter almost unrecognisable, and it's still perfectly pleasant. It's more relaxing than exciting but it definitely has its moments.

RKS Score: 7/10


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