MaxSpace

Review: A Walk in the Woods

Robert Redford and Nick Nolte hit the Appalachian Trail

By Max Weiss | September 04, 2015, 12:51 pm

-Broad Green Pictures
MaxSpace

Review: A Walk in the Woods

Robert Redford and Nick Nolte hit the Appalachian Trail

By Max Weiss | September 04, 2015, 12:51 pm

-Broad Green Pictures

Get Baltimore Daily.

Sign up today and you'll get our latest stories delivered straight to your inbox every weekday afternoon.

I’m surely not the first to say that A Walk in the Woods plays like Grumpy Old Men meets Wild.

The premise: At 70, real-life travel writer Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) is feeling restless: He’s been going to too many funerals, his adventures all seem behind him, he’s settled into a quiet, content existence with his wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) and large family. So he decides, improbably, to hike the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail. Catherine thinks he’s being ridiculous and proceeds to leave him Google printouts of articles about hikers being maimed by bears, found decomposed in the woods, and contracting horrible diseases from poisonous plants. Once she realizes that Bill is not budging, she insists that he at least bring a companion. Bill gets laughed at by nearly everyone he asks, until he gets an unexpected phone call from his old drinking buddy Stephen Katz who heard about the hike through a mutual friend and wants to come. Since he’s being played by Nick Nolte, Katz has a thick, husky voice that suggests decades of dissolution.“Are you in shape?” Bill asks skeptically. Katz assures him that he is.

Of course, the rakish and wayward Katz is not in great shape. (See: Nick Nolte, being played by). He’s a recovering alcoholic with a trick knee, whose face gets red and breathing gets labored after just a few steps. But Bill is desperate to go, so he agrees.

At first, all of this seems a little too cute, a little too facile. After a quarter mile on the hike, Katz is exhausted, barely able to move—but somehow, miraculously, he soldiers on and that level of exhaustion never really reveals itself again. The film is filled with all sorts of such faux moments of danger—a snow storm, a bear attack, an attempt to cross a rocky river—that all end up with neat and sit-commy resolutions. (“That went well,” Bryson cracks, after he falls into the river.)

To make matters worse, the film is guilty of casual sexism. On the trail, Bill and Katz meet an annoying, know-it-all hiker (Kristen Schaal), from whom they devise an elaborate plan to escape. Later, at a rest stop, Katz attempts to woo a full-figured woman—named Buela, no less. “She has a great body,” he tells Bill, “under 200 pounds of fat.”

And yet, darned if the film didn’t ultimately work for me. Mostly, it was the fun of seeing these two veteran actors riff off each other. It really was a bit of art imitating life—with two golden boys who veered in different directions—Redford, the very height of respectability, the face of prestige film and over-priced turquoise jewelry; Nolte, these days more famous for a mugshot where he looks like a homeless man than his acting chops (which remain considerable). Lots of the banter between Katz and Bill is predictable, corny, but some has depth, as when Katz discusses his alcoholism and accuses Bill of rejecting his Midwestern roots or when Bill explains why he’s curious about all aspects of life and nature. By the end, when Bill gets home and receives some unexpected postcards from Katz, I realized that the film had stealthily worked its magic on me. Dammit, I cared.




Meet The Author
Max Weiss is the managing editor of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.

You May Also Like


Arts & Culture

All The City's a Stage

Baltimore abounds with stage productions to entertain casual theatre-goers and thespians alike.

Arts & Culture

The Book Thing Bounces Back

A Baltimore literary institution gets reborn, thanks to the community.

Charmed Life

Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast Talks Personal Style

The fashionable frontwoman discusses icons, trends, and confidence.


Arts District

What To Know Before You Visit Arts of Asia at the Walters Art Museum

New Asian art installation showcases new ways of exploring collection.

Arts & Culture

Music Reviews: September 2017

The latest from J Pope and the HearNow and J. Roddy Walston and the Business.

MaxSpace

Review: Good Time

In-your-face film is impressive, if exhausting.

Connect With Us

Most Read


Old Vine State
At long last, the Maryland wine industry is crushing it.

Flickering Treasures
Photographer Amy Davis describes her new book that explores Baltimore’s forgotten movie theaters.

The Book Thing Bounces Back
A Baltimore literary institution gets reborn, thanks to the community.

Washington D.C. Arts Guide
From concerts and art exhibits to comedy and theater, we round up the best events to check out in the District.

Small Print
Local brand Worthy Threads puts the cool back in kids clothing.