A Walk in the Woods

Despite negative reviews, this film should be seen by everyone over 50 or anyone wondering what it will be like at that age.

A Walk in the WoodsWhile I must admit that I went expecting very little, Director Ken Kwapis’s A Walk in the Woods wrapped its emotional arms around me from the very beginning and wouldn’t let go. Sure, it is likely to appeal directly to those over 60, but it serves as a reminder to younger members of the audience that they must pursue adventures during life’s short journey.

Based on the book by the brilliant writer Bill Bryson, it follows the attempt of two aging, old friends to walk the entire Appalachian Trail. This amounts to a daring 1700 mile journey from Georgia to Maine, and danger lurks around every turn regardless of your skill and training.

Robert Redford plays Mr. Bryson while Nick Nolte does a fantastic job as his old friend Stephen Katz. Rebelling at a life where funerals become far too frequent, Bryson hooks up with his lost friend Katz after his very smart English wife (a small but glowing role by Emma Thompson) agrees to the journey, but only if her husband has company.

Naturally, these two old friends have a lot of catching up to do, and their dialogue is both spontaneous and repeatedly funny. Living in Iowa as he tries to outrun traffic warrants, Katz summarizes his life to Bryson in a phrase that should be engraved on his tombstone, “I spent the first half of my life getting drunk and chasing pussy and I wasted the second half!”

Our two traveling companions encounter repeated trouble ranging from black bears to accidentally rolling down a cliff face where they are left stranded on a ledge that seems to leave death at the front door. They also meet some crazed fellow travelers, including both an irritating young woman (an unforgettable performance by Kristen Schaal) and a rather large woman in a laundromat who Katz quickly tries to seduce.

More to the point, critics of this film have missed its significance. Redford is perfect playing Mr. Bryson, bringing warmth, intellect and charm to every moment he is on screen. While I haven’t read the book forming the basis of this film, I have devoured “A Short History of Nearly Everything” (2004), “At Home: A Short History of Private Life” (2011) and “One Summer: America, 1927” (2014), and I fully admit being a huge Bryson fan.

This film is about the experiences of life and the need to pay attention to reading whenever you have the time. Aging is obviously unavoidable, and it is reflected in a wonderful scene where Redford and Nolte are given a quick ride in a Mustang where two young lovers occupy the front seat. When the two of them engage in a little sexual interplay while driving, Nolte looks at Redford and says with a bit of lament, “God, I wish I was 20.” Redford responds, “Hell, I wish I was 50.”

Let me also mention that the scenery along the trail is at times beautiful beyond description. My wife and I just returned from a short stay at Lake Placid in upstate New York, and we had similar views from several areas, particularly on Mount Defiance overlooking Fort Ticonderoga. It was a breathtaking experience, and I can only lament that I wish I was 50 again.