A Walk in the Woods – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Ken Kwapis
Writers: Rick Kerb (screenplay), Bill Holderman (screenplay), Bill Bryson (Memoir)
Stars: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson
Based on the memoir by Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods follows the writer’s decision to walk the Appalachian Trail.
Following a number of awkward social encounters, Bill (Robert Redford) decides to escape his increasingly domestic life and hike the trail; but when his wife (Emma Thompson) insists he can’t go alone, he has to find a friend to accompany him. Of course all the sensible options refuse, and he is forced to invite former colleague Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte): a man singularly unsuitable for outdoor activity, with a dodgy hip and a voice like he’s chewing a bag of wasps, who is apparently prone to seizures. After this promising set up, they set off slowly; a pace which sadly fails to change for the rest of the film.
Directed by Ken Kwapis (He’s Just Not That Into You / The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants), and adapted by 3 writers (one of whom is uncredited); A Walk in the Woods can, at best, be described as a ‘gentle comedy’. One suspects that the film’s set pieces have little resemblance to the original memoir, and the inevitability of bear encounters and falling into the water take away any real sense of danger. In fact, the real issue of A Walk in the Woods is how safe it feels: They’re never far from civilisation, the one blizzard is bookended by nice mild temperatures, and if they get into any difficulty there will probably be a fellow hiker there to rescue them.
The brilliance of Bill Bryson’s writing is the way he describes things, with self-deprecating humour, interesting facts, and details which make the whole scene easy to describe. Sadly these don’t translate to the big screen. Bryson’s character is too nice to be particularly interesting, titbits of interesting information seem shoehorned awkwardly into dialogue, and even the stunning scenery never has the breathtaking power it should.
There are entertaining moments in the film, most notably the appearance of Kristen Schall as the infuriating Mary Ellen, who they are forced to escape from; but overall A Walk in the Woods is rarely funny enough, or thrilling enough, to seem anything more than a gentle afternoon stroll.