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By Kate Smith
30th August 2015

Films about life being more about the journey than the destination are fairly common, and the premise might be getting a little tired. Luckily, ‘A Walk in the Woods’ breathes a little wakefulness into well-trodden ground (mixed enough metaphors there, didn’t I?).

Based on Bill Bryson’s novel of the same name, ‘A Walk In The Woods’ follows Bill (played by Robert Redford) and his childhood friend Katz (Nick Nolte) as they attempt to trek the 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail in North America. Bill and Katz used to bang around Europe together, before having a bit of a falling out. If it weren’t for Bill’s wife Catherine (the sublime Emma Thompson) insisting that Bill not tackle the Trail alone, he and Katz wouldn’t have set foot near each other. But, as is the way with these things, journeys don’t just result in changes in location.

The screenplay is as clever and snappy as you would expect from one based on a Bill Bryson book, with some brilliant lines, artfully crafted humour, and plenty of heart. Pacing is very good, with the right amount of time spent on intro, and a fitting conclusion. Scenes during the body of the film move along nicely. My only complaint here would be that ‘A Walk in the Woods’ suffers the same malady that befalls many book adaptations – having to pick and choose scenes from the many contained in a book results in sometimes feeling disjointed from each other.


Making up for any minor failings in editing are Redford and Nolte, veteran performers in the hands of capable director Ken Kwapis (‘The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’). Redford is excellent, as expected, and while Nolte’s raspy voice borders on annoying, it’s far, far overshadowed by his performance as Katz, a reformed alcoholic running from more than the bottle. While Bill’s motivations for taking on a six-month hike through the equivalent of scaling Everest 16 times are fairly obvious, Katz’s are more nuanced and complicated, and Nolte gives us all of that with ease.

While the film focuses squarely on Bill and Katz, the support cast are integral, and as usual Emma Thompson is perfect as Bill’s concerned and resigned wife Catherine. Fans of ‘Parks and Recreation’ will get a kick out of a brief Nick Offerman cameo, while Mary Steenburgen and Kristen Schaal both make very valuable appearances. While the human characters provide the entertainment, it’s the Appalachian Trail itself that provides the impetus for the story, becoming almost a character itself with its sweeping scenery permeating every moment. Rather nicely complementing the striking vision on screen is a soundtrack featuring indie artist Lord Huron. I recommend you check him out, because his tracks couldn’t have been more perfect for the mood and setting of this film.

Making up for any minor failings in editing are Redford and Nolte.

Bill spends much of their time on the Trail claiming he won’t be writing a book about their experiences, with Katz sure that he will. Of course, we know he does, but at the time, his motivation was more about proving to himself that he wasn’t so old, so ready to retire. Like Reese Witherspoon’s character in 'Wild', the result of his journey is more than the protagonist expects. It’s inspiring in a way, as I left the cinema not only determined to reread my collection of Bryson books, but to look into a trek of my own.

RELEASE DATE: 03/09/2015
RUN TIME: 1h 44m
CAST: Robert Redford
Nick Nolte
Emma Thompson
DIRECTOR: Ken Kwapis
WRITERS: Bill Bryson
Rick Kerb
Bill Holderman
PRODUCERS: Robert Redford
Bill Holderman
Chip Diggins
SCORE: Nathan Larson & Lord Huron
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