Friday, September 4

REVIEW: A Walk in the Woods

Directed by Ken Kwapis
2015 Comedy-Drama
1 hour, 44 minutes
From Broad Green Pictures

Robert Redford
Nick Nolte
Emma Thompson
Mary Steenburgen

Tell you what.  I didn't expect it to be a 4-star picture because such movies usually don't sneak up on you.  All the buzz warns you that one is coming.  The cast alone told me it would probably be a 3-star spectacle.  Wrongo.  I give it the two stars it deserves and with them let me say that I liked it well enough.  It was rather unexceptional and it asks nothing of an audience except just to sit, smile now and then and soak up the rural beauty.

Redford plays real-life writer Bill Bryson whose novel was the basis for the film.  After Bryson and his wife return to the states from living many years in England, he realizes his life is slowing down.  Going to funerals and feeling aches and pains and being a little at lose ends inspires him to want to jar himself into action.  But what?  He comes up with hiking the Appalachian Trail which goes from Georgia to Maine.  His wife thinks he's gone a bit loopy and nearly insists that he not go.  But she gives in if he will take someone with him.

He calls everyone he knows except for his old pal, Katz, whom Bryson doesn't even think to call.  But Katz, out of shape and on the wagon and more interested in rekindling his friendship than going on a long hike, gets wind of the trip and calls and invites himself along as Bryson's hiking partner.

The hike itself is exactly what you'd expect it to be.  Included are  scenes of many pains and little gains, amusing episodes of crossing paths with other hikers, promises of extra-curricular activities in towns, bears, adjusting to one another, catch-up chats about what each has been doing in their years apart and so on. 

My main problem with the script is that there wasn't anything unexpected and that's what takes a film beyond two stars.  There were too many sections that seemed to me choppy and vague and the entire package rather lacked a central point of focus.  Sure it was about a hike but what else was it about?  I half expected it would at least be a good buddy film (hey, two dudes, the great outdoors, some meaningful conversation...) and while there is certainly a buddy aspect here, it was the good I was looking for. 

It kind of felt like a house that is little more than a series of add-ons.  Don't they always look that way... unfortunately?  Hey, same here work in progress.

This is a Redford movie although he didn't direct it.  His production company, Wildwood, is the one behind it.  He has owned the rights to the book for years and in fact early on saw it as a reunion flick for him and his buddy Paul Newman.  But a number of things got in the way, not the least of which was Newman's fatal illness, so the project probably sat in some drawer at Sundance.  I think the script needed more humor (Redford's character was there but Nolte's character was not) and a Newman-Redford pairing could have given the piece a needed comic touch.  Mmmmm, Butch and Sundance on the Appalachian Trail.

I do credit Barbra Streisand's two favorite leading men with one thing... the parts called for two old cantankerous war horses and they were well-cast in that respect.  Fact is these two were pretty cantankerous as young men as well.

Redford has certainly misplaced that star luster he once had.  (Newman, on the other hand, never did.)  And in his acting I see someone who is trying too hard to get it back and at other times not trying hard enough.  He still loves to play characters who think they have an edge up on everyone else and he might want to think about trying something new.  His acting is a bit more wooden I have noticed in several of his last films.  What happened to that directing career?

And keeping up this young addiction isn't funny anymore.  Emma Thompson, in real life, could be his daughter while here she is his wife.  Get actresses your own age, RR, and it will help me invest more in the stories.  Here, at least, the young children are his grandchildren but it puzzles me the need to have a character with young children around.

Nolte didn't look a lot different than his famous mug shot.  My own shortcoming is that I want him to look like he did in Rich Man, Poor Man and I would happily settle for how he looked in Prince of Tides but those days are obviously gone.  It's downright painful listening to him.  Years of smoking and the sauce make that gravelly voice nearly incoherent to my delicate sensibilities.  I don't think his acting was bad; it's that he was the wrong actor for the role.  Did Redford try to get Sean Connery to come out of retirement?  Hey, what about Nicholson?  Sam Shepard?

I wonder how much Redford allowed Ken Kwapis to direct.  I always wonder that with Redford's directors.  Kudos to the photography of John Bailey.  Beautiful.  I'm not leaving any time soon for the Appalachian Trail but I'm awfully glad ya'll did.

Next posting:
B-Leading Men

1 comment:

  1. Saw this several weeks ago with a fellow flick- phile and we both quite liked it. Audience laughter covered a lot of Nolte's lines, but I was ok with him in this role; Redford is pretty good at light comedy and he's looking his age. Knowing he wanted Paul Newman to costar (and that really would have been wonderful!), I was glad to see the "Butch & Sundance" scene (on the cliff above the river). We gave it 2.5 stars on your rating system.