ROBERT Redford is an example of a Hollywood legend, always enjoyable to watch, irrespective of whether the film he is in turns out to be good or not.
Here, in his latest film, he teams up with Nick Nolte for a conventional but somewhat entertaining adaptation of Bill Bryson’s memoir A Walk in the Woods.
Bryson and his wife (Emma Thompson) are long settled in the USA, having lived in the UK previously for ten years (in reality, Bryson lived there for twenty).
An opening and slightly awkward interview sequence suggests that Bryson is going through a phase of creative uncertainty. A chance walk near his home inspires him though to walk the Appalachian Trail, a 2000 mile route from Georgia to Maine, which works out more than the mileage walking from Lands End to John O’Groats and then back.
In spite of his wife’s disapproval, Bryson goes ahead with the walk but only after seeking a companion, Stephen Katz (Nolte), who appears physically unprepared to engage on such a trek, in spite of his insistence he is capable.
As the walk begins, it is clear that Bryson is going to be tested with the out-of-shape Katz, and with various obstacles and unwanted companions along the way, it appears this will be more than he bargained for.
As a comedy, the film actually does succeed in working as such. The idea of two unlikely companions walking such a physically demanding trek does spell out an interesting scenario, and Redford and Nolte manage to elevate the film thanks to their likability and chemistry.
Redford does manage to get away with the part, especially taking in the age factor. He was in his late seventies when he filmed the part, and even though he barely looks a day over sixty, Bryson was in his mid-forties when the book was published. Clearly playing a part over thirty years younger than him, one would suspect Redford too old for the part, but thanks to his charm and engagement, one sees him as welcome for the role.
From his expressions as he is told the prices for his walking equipment to his bewilderment to as Katz struggles to catch up, Redford’s everyman presence balances well with Nolte’s more mischievous side.
Several scenarios make Katz the companion you would least like on a trip play in an enjoyable fashion required for this type of film. Bryson and Katz are forced to evacuate their hotel after an angry love rival comes calling for Katz, while Katz’s insistence on taking a top bunk with Bryson below makes for a predictable but humorous scenario.
In one scene (aside from the occasional swearing) that practically kills the chances this film could have had of being a more family-friendly film, both men are picked by a couple. The catch lies though that they turn out to be more open into their relationship, even whilst driving the car and yet all the more aware of the presence of others.
The film does not go without its flaws however. The opening interview sequence does not contain the sort of writing that might have helped the film start with a hysterical fashion, whilst a sense of flimsiness almost engulfs the film as a whole. A scene where Bryson and Katz are awakened in the night by a pair of bears as they sleep and frighten them off with their standing and shouting does play as a bit corny and placed as not really funny when compared to other scenarios.
A range of supporting actors struggle to put themselves in the same vicinity of entertainment as the two main characters do but, more often than not, a scenario with potential to fall flat is rescued by the talents of both leads, adept at comedy as with drama.
In the end, it might not be the perfect road movie and its appeal may lie more with older than younger viewers, but thanks mostly to its chalk-and-cheese performances from Redford and Nolte, A Walk in the Woods is arguably enjoyable viewing.