Following the success of Wild, Reese Witherspoon’s introspective expedition along the Pacific Crest Trail, there was an excitement surrounding the long-awaited release of A Walk In The Woods. Producer and star Robert Redford has been working for a decade to bring Bill Bryson’s 1998 memoir to the screen, finally attaching co-star Nick Nolte and director Ken Kwapis in 2013. The leisurely paced adventure follows Bryson (Redford) and his old friend Stephen Katz (Nolte) as they attempt to hike all 2200 miles of the Appalachian Trail, taking on the mammoth challenge despite their old age (their characters are considerably older than the real Bryson when he set out on his journey).
Unfortunately it appears that any excitement over this adaptation was sadly misplaced. The “odd couple on the trail” dynamic manages to coax out a few easy laughs along the way but neither display anything close to their finest work. Redford’s performance rarely strays from the beaten path of straight-faced contemplation, except for an exaggerated double take every now and then, and shows very little of Bill Bryson’s signature wit. Nolte wheezes and rambles through a single, throaty vocal chord, providing the lion’s share of the light comedic smattering on offer.
Armed with rich source material and a stunning variety of locations, the greatest shame is how A Walk In The Woods lacks any real cinematic magnificence, failing to capture the beauty of the Great American Wilderness. In comparison to Wild – its youthful, West Coast rival – Kwapis’ film is missing the expansive sense of its environment, feeling drab and styleless rather than vivid and dynamic (a sequence that is clearly shot in a studio is particularly uneasy on the eyes). This tiredness extends into the characters and their dialogue, leaving a story that could have shown real depth to wallow on the surface, never managing to dig much deeper into its leading men.
Shallow and uninspiring, A Walk In The Woods is nowhere near as adventurous as it ought to be. The film is at its best when it’s ploughing on through the trail and allowing the mismatched pair to easily joke in their extraordinary surroundings. It’s here that the senior audience may find enough gentle fun to make the experience worthwhile but anyone looking for more captivating material will be relieved when the unevenly paced 100 minutes finally draws to a generic close.
A Walk In The Woods is out in UK Cinemas now.