A Walk in the Woods is a movie that didn’t seem to get a lot of advertising and was somewhat ‘panned’ by critics, but it’s a Robert Redford film (I’ve never seen one I didn’t like) and it is based on a 1998 memoir by Bill Bryson. So when a friend said, “Let’s go see it”, I thought, “Yes, let’s go!” I wasn’t disappointed.
Redford (as Bryson), a travel writer of some reknown, and Nick Nolte (Stephen Katz), a pal Bryson has lost touch with over the years, were great together as two old geezers who decide to hike the Appalachian Trail — all 2160 miles of it — from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. For Bryson, it’s a statement as he ages that he can still do one last great hike before life becomes all doctor’s app’ts, diagnoses, and funerals. For Katz, it’s an attempt to avoid 30 days in jail. This is a story full of humour and adventure, amazing scenery (both daytime and nighttime), and a bit of looking at reality for those of us who are getting to that age ourselves and pause to think, ‘Can I still do it?’
One of the surprises for me in this movie was to discover Emma Thompson who plays Bryson’s wife. I checked out her more than 45 movies and I’ve only seen fewer than a handful of them and really can’t say that I noticed her in any of them. In this movie, though, she is delightful as the love of Bryson’s life who doesn’t want him to go on this trip because she’s so afraid that he won’t come back. She prints out stories from the Internet and leaves them in his study: stories about people who’ve disappeared from the trail, encountered bears and been mauled, died and not been found until someone has stumbled across the decomposed body, or fallen off a cliff and been seriously injured, then waited days to be rescued. The most palatable stories are of those who have started out on a trip that would take about 6 months, only to quit after a few weeks or less. While it’s a small part, it’s Emma who provides an anchor and a touch of poignancy to the movie. I’ll be checking out more of her movies.
The two men set off without any preparation other than purchasing gear, and Katz is not only clearly out of shape but is carrying an unopened bottle of whiskey in his pack — something that could be construed as an ominous sign. They encounter cub scouts who pass them on the run, an obnoxious hiker who they go to great extremes to ditch (she talks non-stop and is clearly her most favourite person in the world), bears in the middle of the night trashing their gear, and competent hikers who offer them help which they are too proud to accept — that is, until they find themselves on a fairly small ledge overhanging a sheer drop and no way back up to the main path. They wind up in a couple of towns overnight where they have some pretty hilarious encounters.
I will say that I have always been queasy watching the opening of The Sound of Music, and have trouble walking up flights of stairs that don’t have backs in them, so there were a few scenes I really couldn’t watch! (Plus, there was a trailer before the movie about a Frenchman who walks on a highwire between the twin towers in NYC that I definitely won’t be going to see. No way, no how!!) But A Walk in the Woods was just a fun and thoroughly interesting movie with lots of trivia shared by Bryson along the trail and a happy ending. You might even want to check out the book, afterwards. Do they complete the trail? You’ll have to see it to find out! * * * *