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A Walk in the Woods (2015) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

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Director: Ken Kwapis
Writers: Michael Arndt (screenplay) (as Rick Kerb),  Bill Holderman (screenplay)
Stars: Robert Redford,  Nick Nolte,  Emma Thompson, Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen.

Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) is an author who decides that he wants to tackle the Appalachian Trail on a six month hike. The trail has a reputation for fatalities and with Bill in his old age takes a bit of convincing his wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) that he “needs” to accomplish this feat.

At first Catherine tries everything she can to convince Bill to cancel this hike but finally accepts his decision on the condition that he has a companion on his expedition. The problem Bill faces is everyone he contacts from his list of friends declines his offer until he receives a phonecall from Stephen Kats (Nick Nolte), a friend he hasn’t seen in years.

Nick Nolte brings a comedic tone to the movie and the character of Stephen and I felt without this, the movie may have suffered. Nolte is brilliant as a former alcoholic who lives life without stress or worries. On the flip side of that, he envies Bill’s life as an author who has travelled the world and lived in England for some time, where he met his wife Catherine. Bill is aware of his live and how it compares to Stephen’s and you sense he appreciates what he has but feels there is something missing in his life that he may find on the trail.

A Walk in the Woods is basically that. It has the feel of a road movie (a foot movie sounds weird) but at a pensioners pace. That’s not to say the pacing of the movie is far too slow, in fact Director Ken Kwapis does a magnificent job in this instance. There is a mixed tone throughout the film from comedy, nostalgia, friendship and adventure and writers Michael Arndt and Bill Holderman should be commended for the screenplay as the script is witty, clever and interesting from start to finish.

I reviewed another Robert Redford movie last week (The Discovery) which coincidentally also starred Mary Steenburgen who again has a minor role in A Walk in the Woods. I previously mentioned this latest splurge of Redford film that have been released over the past few years and again this new wave of movies he is starring in is showing that even in his 70’s he is still managing to captivate audiences and doesn’t appear to have lost his razor sharp wit (especially shown in the camping shot, when he is purchasing his equipment for the hike) Redford carries the film and although not a flat out comedic actor manages to keep up with Nick Nolte who is also in his 70’s.

As I previously mentioned Nick Nolte manages to add a loud humour to the film and his character is needed to not only serve the story but to create a chemistry with the Bill character in all ranges of emotions and situations they find themselves in. Nolte has been a respective actor for many years now and really gels with Redford in this movie.

When I discovered Emma Thompson was appearing in A Walk in the Woods, I was surprised with how little screen time she is given. Catherine is seen at the beginning of the movie to serve as emotional baggage basically to Bill in trying to stop him from taking on this hike and we don’t see her again until the last few moments of the movie to welcome Bill home. I assumed by recruiting Thompson as the wife we may have seen a few moments back and forth from her character perhaps on a mobile phone to her husband, but no, once we are out in the woods, we are out in the woods away from civilisation. Perhaps this was intentional on Kwapis’ part to isolate us with the two main characters.

Another small role but important at the right moment came from Kristen Schaal who portrays Mary Ellen, the opinionated backpacker who offers advise (when no one asks for it) on good value camping equipment and no matter what you purchased, she wouldn’t have. Schaal is perfect in the role of the annoying adventurer and to be fair to Bill and Stephen. You would abandon her in the woods too.

Director Ken Kwapis manages to engross the audience with a great script and a beautifully shot movie. He appears to be proud of the scenic wilderness between Georgia to Maine where the The Appalachian Trail runs and most of the movie was shot between North Carolina and Virginia . Every shot is stunning and you really take in the surroundings and appreciate what he is doing here. I can understand why Kwapis was recruited for this project with its tone of humour having directed episodes of The Larry Sanders Show, The Bernie Mac Show and The Office (US) I liked the humour in this film and a lot of the one liners made me laugh.

I enjoyed this movie, it was funny, emotional, and to some extent you can relate to these characters. I got what I expected from the movie, which was brilliantly written and with Arndt on board I knew this would be one of those movies where you actually look forward to the dialogue. I would recommend watching this movie if you haven’t already done so. On another note or in this case a little bit of trivia. Redford had his eye on this movie for a long time and wanted to reunite with Paul Newman with the later portraying Kats. Unfortunately Newman was battling cancer at the time and was too ill to accomplish this.

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