Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on September 2, 2015
Directed by Ken Kwapis
Written by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman, based on the book by Bill Bryson
Cast: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal, R. Keith Harris, Randall Newsome, Hayley Lovitt, Linds Edwards, Susan McPhail, Andrew Vogel, Derek Krantz
If you’ve never read any of author Bill Bryson’s wonderful travelogues of his adventures around the world, I highly recommend you do: every one I’ve read—and I’ve read most of them—is fascinating, informative, engaging, and best of all, hilarious. They make you want to immediately grab a backpack and take a trip to any inviting destination on the planet. One of his most popular and well-known books, A Walk in the Woods, tells the story of Bryson’s attempt at walking the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, with his longtime friend Stephen Katz along for the trip. It’s also very funny and informative, but sadly, I can’t say the same for its cinematic counterpart.
Robert Redford plays Bryson, a travel writer who returns to the US after living in England and sets up home in central New Hampshire. After attending the funeral of an acquaintance, he goes for a walk and happens upon a segment of the Appalachian Trail, which he never realized was there. He decides he’s going to hike it, and when his wife requests that he not to travel it alone, he contacts his friend Katz (Nick Nolte), who agrees to join him. They begin their hike at Springer Mountain in Georgia and head north, experiencing adventures, dangers, and craziness along the way.
I’ll admit, my view of this film may be jaundiced by the fact that I loved the book as much as I did. I’ll also admit that I never expected anyone to turn the story into a film…it just didn’t seem possible. This was the sort of situation where the magic was in the storytelling, and not the visual, which should have been left to one’s imagination. The sad thing is, this might’ve actually worked had it been better handled, and if the generic comedy and pratfalls had been removed, and if the roles had been re-cast, and if it had been more inventive and cerebral than typical. But alas, this was not the case.
Redford has always been one of my favorite actors, and I think it’s great he’s still working today, and though his acting was fine in this, I just don’t think he was right for the part; the same goes for Nolte. I kept seeing Redford and Nolte as these characters, and not Bryson and Katz. My biggest problem, however, was with the screenwriters and the director, who flat-out botched the personality and charm of the book, and the scope and grandeur of the trail. This was not supposed to be a comedy, for chrissake, but a character-driven adventure drama tinged with subtle humor. Just reference the book! And keep our leads on the trail, instead of having them always escaping it!
Redford said that he constantly laughed out loud while reading the book; trust me, I did too, but I did no such thing with the movie. To me, this would’ve worked much better if it had concentrated on dialogue and scenery, and had a Redford voice-over supplying vital tidbits of trail history, their surroundings, and their thoughts and feelings as they interacted with other hikers, and each other. Instead, it was a failed attempt at an adaptation, inexplicably turned R-rated and crammed into 104 measly minutes. Which is why I’m begging you: please read the book, and skip the film. (4/10)