Film review: A Walk In The Woods

Nick Nolte stars as Stephen Katz and Robert Redford as Bill Bryson hiking the Appalachian Trail in A

Nick Nolte stars as Stephen Katz and Robert Redford as Bill Bryson hiking the Appalachian Trail in A Walk In The Woods. Picture: Frank Masi / Broad Green Pictures - Credit: Archant

Bill Bryson’s trip along the 2,180 mile Appalachian Trail is quietly layered, but cosy enough for his fans, says Michael Joyce.

He may be nearing 80, but I think any real person would still be honoured to find out that Redford was playing them in a film. He has more lines than face and has seemingly taken possession of Frankie Howerd’s toupee, but he has aged remarkably well, he still has that air of untouchable stardom. Discovering that you were to be played by Nick Nolte, even if you were a pseudonym, would be considerably less of a thrill. He looks phenomenally wasted. He is such a puffing, sweaty red-faced travesty of his former beefcake self that every step he takes seems loaded with tension – he could go at any moment.

Redford is the American writer Bill Bryson who suddenly decides late in life, and to the horror of his English wife (Thompson), that he is going to attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, a 2,180 mile stretch heading north from Georgia to Maine. (It’s basically an East Coast equivalent of whatever Reese Witherspoon did in Wild, but twice as long.) Nolte is the old, wild friend that he’d lost touch with who decides to go with him.

Bryson is a writer who, from the snippets I’ve read of him, struck me as having the happy knack of seeming just a little bit funnier and a little bit smarter than his readership. They love him because they think that, on a good day, they might’ve made the same observation or wisecrack. The film accurately mimics his voice; it’s cosy, comforting, unchallenging and, on those terms, entertaining. The one big criticism you would make of it is that for a film about the scenery, it looks pretty drab.

Redford’s portrayal of Bryson is quietly layered, you get little hints of him being quite mean and superior, while remaining a likeable protagonist. The script has mucked around considerably with the book’s narrative but all its contrivances and changes haven’t altered the essentially inconsequential nature of it. The film’s greatest glory though comes right at the end when, spoiler, they give up. What a splendid thing to see in a Hollywood film and just after Bryson has made a big speech about not being a quitter. It is a gloriously sane and human moment.