Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

A Walk in the Woods

a-walk-in-the-woods-posterCinema Monolith: 4/10
IMDb: 6.3/10
Radio Times Guide to Films: **** out of 5

Released on September 2, 2015
Rated R
104 minutes

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)


14 comments on “A Walk in the Woods

  1. tripirate1

    Todd, I am in total agreement with you. The book had me spewing coffee out of my nose, it was so randomly funny. I really did not want the book to end. The movie on the other hand, well, I wished I hadn’t started watching it. I kept watching hoping it would get better. That never happened.


    • Todd B

      Hi Deb! Now that I think about it, I kinda wish the same thing…that I’d never started watching it. Luckily, it’s forgettable enough that I can dissolve it from memory. Perhaps you can do the same.


  2. Hey. I read this one and loved it. Not wanting to be overly critical I pretty much agree with you. Book was laugh out loud funny. Movie less so. I do think it’s a passable old geezer movie if you don’t know the source. I’m not a big Redford fan but did really love his one man sailing movie. All is Lost. Always liked Nolte and thought what there is of this film mainly belongs to him cause he has the goofy role.


    • Todd B

      I really liked All is Lost as well. I thought it was so neat that Redford was 77 and carried that movie alone…and it worked so well. And yeah, I guess if you’d never read the book, or knew nothing about the actual people involved, Walk might’ve been better tolerated. Unfortunately, it’s something I’ll never have the chance to experience.


      • That’s what impressed me about All Is Lost. His age and he carries that film singlehandedly. I thought it was a wonderful film. I’ll have to try another Bryson book. Only read the one because of the bear on the cover. Little did I know a movie was on its way a year later.


      • Todd B

        Some of my favorite Bryson books: In a Sunburned Country (a trip to Australia), The Lost Continent (a drive through places in the US he visited as a kid), and One Summer (a look back at the US in 1927).


  3. Dracula

    Some how I have missed this Bill Bryson book. I will take your advice, read the book and skip the movie. The movie savings will pay for the book!


    • Todd B

      Let me know if you read that book, and tell me what you thought. If you like it well enough, I’ll recommend some other Bryson books for you to try!


  4. Stu

    I’ve read lots of Bryson but I haven’t read A Walk In The Woods. I have, however, seen this film, and I concur with your review, good sir. Is Nolte even saying his dialogue in English?


    • Todd B

      I watched one clip on-line for my review, and I didn’t understand a word he said. And if you enjoyed the Bryson books you’ve already read, I wholeheartedly recommend you chase down A Walk in the Woods and give it an immediate read. If you don’t enjoy it, you can deduct the cost of the book from the thousands of dollars you already owe me.


      • Stu

        Will you take a half-watched DVD copy of Eegah! as payment?


      • Todd B

        Make it a half-watched Blu-ray, and it’s a deal!


      • Stu

        Eegah!! is available on Blu-ray??!!!


      • Todd B

        In our dreams, my friend, in our dreams.


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