Take a Drink: every time someone comments on a woman’s looks
Take a Drink: every time someone comments on Bill and Katz’s age
Take a Drink: whenever there is a mention of name brand camping items
Take a Drink: for every sweat-soaked shirt Nick Nolte is filmed in.
Do a Shot: whenever you see the stunt double
By: The Cinephiliac (Three Beers) –
At first glance, it’s easy to assume that A Walk in the Woods is merely a film for a geriatric crowd. If the cast alone doesn’t indicate this, then the audiences that flock to it certainly will. I was easily the youngest theater goer in my screening where the average age was about 57. Surprisingly enough Ken Kwapis’s screenplay adaptation of Bill Bryson’s best-selling novel tells a timeless tale of searching for fulfillment, complete with plenty of laughs and heartfelt moments along the way.
Bill Bryson is an accomplished writer and educator still looking for a sense of spirited adventure amongst the monotony of deaths and disease that festers with old age. While taking a walk in his backyard he comes to a crossroad that is the start of the 2,168 mile Appalachian Trail. After some quick research, Bill decides he wants to hike the whole thing, age be damned. All of his friends laugh at him, his loving wife becomes enraged with worry, and he is met with doubt at every turn, but Bill persists in his need to take on the challenge which leads him to reunite with an old travelling partner and former drunk, Katz. Together both men attempt to defy the odds and their own expectations to hike to great heights over a span of months.
A wise man once said, “I’m too old for this shit.”
Star power is the reigning champion for A Walk in the Woods. Robert Redford plays a textbook straight man to Nick Nolte’s superb eccentricity. The two play off of eachother with ease and relative familiarity, making their decades-long history with one another seem more than plausible. Nolte’s arrival in the film is the kick start it needs, bringing a boost of energetic comedy and raunchy jokes to fill the time. Sweating, puffy faced, and looking on the verge death, Nolte is fantastic in his role as Katz, concocting a likable character with despicable qualities who helps Bill lighten up and expand his perspective on life. On the other hand, Redford is great as an accomplished man feeling trapped and constrained by the monotonies of his senior years. Though not nearly as memorable or enchanting as Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon, Nolte and Redford are an odd couple with an intriguing enough relationship that I’d actually be interested to see them evolve as characters if studios were stupid enough to allow a sequel to take place- God forbid.
Personally, as someone who has been planning to hike the Appalachian Trail for some time now, I rather enjoyed the gorgeous, breathtaking shots of the trail and its beauty, although they were few and far between. Overhead crane shots coupled with long wide shots of the terrain show the trail’s stunning glory, serving as a reminder of why Bill and fellow hikers go through the difficult task of hiking through mountains for about six months at a time. I also respect the film’s decision to focus, albeit briefly, on the very real and important fact that hikers have died on the trail. Though acknowledging the tragedies, the film still encourages the hike, driving home the point that it is important to try a task rather than let fear dissuade you.
You’ll never experience true beauty if you’re not willing to adventure for it.
A Walk in the Woods is filled with good old “fucks”, “shits”, and “goddammits” and its jokes are nice and raunchy. However, at times the comedy goes a bit too far in its frank conversations, mostly about women. I get it, they’re two old dudes who aren’t PC in their daily conversations, but with lines like “If you’re not going to be pretty, you better be funny. If you’re not either you better have money. If you’re 0 for 3 then you better be slutty.” So many fat jokes are made at womens’ expenses, and Katz openly admits that his attraction to the opposite sex is based on if they have a beating heart and all of their limbs. Despite looking like shit throughout the entire film, dripping sweat from the rolls in his neck and down his chest, Katz is never turned down by a woman or regarded for his looks. Instead, he gets to blast jokes about ugly women he’s slept with and body types he’s conquered. While this type of conversation was more than acceptable during both actors’ prime era, it’s 2015. Let’s evolve already.
Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman’s adapted screenplay is pretty simplistic. Two men decide to hike the Appalachian Trail, then learn about themselves and each other in the process. It’s short, simple, and sweet. Unfortunately, that’s the film’s greatest weakness. There could have been much more depth in both characters and the story that unfolds. We only scratch the surface of who these men are and why they choose to continue even when a quarter of a mile seems to break them down. We never really hear how they met or what drew them to travel. Likewise, we meet random people on the trail, Mary Steenburgen as a Motel owner included, who are just there to be practically faceless bodies and a punchline. There’s never really a peek into how the men prepare for their trail or their day to day ventures. Overall, despite their age and lack of physical stamina, hiking up rugged terrain seems like a breeze for the two.
His only motivation up the mountain was because he heard the thinner air gets your buzzed.
Though A Walk in the Woods lacks the allure and passion represented in recent travel films like Tracks and last year’s incredible Wild, it’s a senior-driven film with a mainstream crossover appeal despite its undeveloped story and bare dramatics. It just barely misses the mark in concocting an effective odd couple pairing to drive the film; nevertheless I really enjoyed the dynamic between Redford and Nolte. A Walk in the Woods focuses on two people attempting to accomplish a deed they aren’t meant to accomplish, and that alone makes for an inspiring tale that enticed me to want to read the book.