Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Summer Cinema: A Walk In the Woods

This past weekend marked the end of the Summer Movie Season as Labor Day is generally pretty quiet at the box office. Newcomers The Transporter Refueled and A Walk in the Woods were no match for faith based holdover War Room. Woods stars Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as old writing buddies and hell raisers as Redford's aging, semi-retired author Bill Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail to see America after living abroad for a couple of decades. The trailers made the film out to be a coming of old age, heart warming, odd couple style adventure comedy and it didn't disappoint. It's not great and there's no career defining performance from either actor but it's a fun flick that makes you want to hit the road, see some nature, meet strangers and eat some deliciously heavy food.

Bill Bryson (Redford) is living a nice life in suburbia with his loving wife Catherine (Emma Thompson, who I thought was his daughter at first, whoops). Having only written forewords and overseen re-released past works for years, Bryson is getting a little bored and one day sees a sign for the Appalachian Trail while on a walk. Feeling like he needs to see more of his own country, Bryson decides to devote six months to becoming one with nature but Catherine is afraid he'll be eaten by a bear or get lost and die out in the woods. Wanting him to find a hiking buddy, Bryson reaches out to old friends who think he's crazy until one night, a grizzled voice from his past calls up, wanting to join. Said grizzled voice belongs to Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), a woman chasing, booze swilling son of a gun that Bryson knew in his younger days. The two haven't spoken in decades and Katz still owes him $600 bucks. Katz shows up looking like he's on his last leg, for real, Nolte is perennially red faced and seemingly struggling for breath, overweight, limping and has some wild hair. Either this is some real good acting or art simply imitating life. The duo hit the trail and encounter a slew of fellow hikers and small town folk played by a litany of familiar faces including Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen.

Of course the two discuss life and love, missed opportunities, who they were, who they are and the like while enduring heat, rain and snow while surviving treacherous trails, falls and maybe a bear or two. I wasn't quite sure where the film was going because they weren't going to reach the end of the trail at the pace the flick was moving and I wasn't sure if it was gonna get real by killing off one of them. There's justifiably long sequences of beautiful landscapes set to soothing music and by the end, there's a touch of being at peace with oneself not being justified by accomplishments or titles. There's a quick photo of both leading men in their primes and hot Damme, was Redford a handsome devil. Still dignified if a little frail, Woods was easier to watch than the overrated All Is Lost while Nolte couldn't top his excellent performance from Warrior. Director Ken Kwapis directs from a script by Rick Kerb, Bill Holderman and Bill Bryson that was originally meant to be a third vehicle for Reford and Paul Newman after mega-hits Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. Sadly, the project languished since being optioned in 1998, Newman's health declined and the actor, race car driver and philanthropist died in 2008. Only a few years younger than Redford, Nick Nolte was then lined up to co-star. To date, A Walk in the Woods has grossed a not shabby $13 million bucks in it's first week. Not bad for a surprisingly tame R rated (Nolte's potty mouth) flick starring two 70 something year olds. Zach Efron would kill for those numbers.

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