In this book-to-big screen adoption, two-time Academy Award winner Robert Redford partners with Nick Nolte to hike along the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. With a success rate of only 10 percent for those who start out and actually finish the 2,118-mile journey, even steeper odds face these two unlikely friends and old-timers.
Based upon the best-selling novel by Bill Bryson, “A Walk In The Woods” finds the 79-year old Redford (as Bryson) seeking to conquer one of the most physically exhausting and mentally challenging human endeavors for someone regardless of age. Throw in having to keep an eye on the disheveled and misfit Nolte along the way, and viewers can quickly see how Redford’s been given one of most difficult tasks since the Apollo space missions to the Moon.
“A Walk In The Woods” is a mixture of geographic high and low movie terrain. The highest point of the film is the way in which it methodically lays out to the audience how arduous hiking the Appalachians can be, particularly to novices like Redford and Nolte.
Between the brilliant cinematography and beauty seen from hilltop views, the film projects the peril and back-breaking elements facing those trekkers strong enough to partake in the 5-million step adventure from start-to-finish.
Despite navigating moviegoers around several scenic high peaks, the film’s weak character development brings the overall story to a blistering crawl.
We learn very little about Redford and Nolte that we didn’t already know before the backpacks were strapped to their shoulders. Early mingling amongst fellow hikers carried several moments of laughter early on, only to disappear like a false summit as the script wanes and wanders.
Uncertain as to whether director Ken Kwapis (2009’s “He’s Just Not That Into You”) suffered dehydration at the trail head or just ran out of gas walking the storyline along, this film lacks any real audience investment in Redford’s life, marriage or even his soul.
It provides still less towards Nolte’s “Katz” vagabond character. Lastly, director Kwapis ends the movie far too early for anyone to look back and see accomplishment, changed lives and thousands of miles in the opposite direction.
It’s that missing connection and care for these two characters from viewers that leads “A Walk In The Woods” off the beaten path. A path, and story, underwhelming and missing the mark.