A Walk in the Woods is, in short, a very entertaining buddy adventure with excellent performances by Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. Though the film is a familiar story, it’s well told, and avoids many of the sappiness that’s found in similar films. Under the direction of Ken Kwapis, the film is a quirky comic adventure with a strong emotional core.
The film follows the story of Bill Bryson (Robert Redford), an acclaimed author who’s struggling adjusting to a retired life in suburban New Hampshire. Following the death of a friend, Bryson decides to embark on a monumental trail: hiking the Appalachian Trail, despite the worries of his wife Catherine (Emma Thompson). Reuniting with his estranged friend Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), Bryson embarks on a journey with the attempt of regaining the adventure of youth and having the adventure of a lifetime.
Ken Kwapis creates a beautifully ascetic feel to A Walk in the Woods; the cinematography perfectly captures the environment, and utilizes it to focus on the two leads. The film’s tone is perfectly pitched, with a great sense of realism that combines comedy and drama. There’s a fair amount of humor throughout, but the emotional beats are still there. Additionally, the film’s plot points, specifically those in the final act, avoid many of the cliches that are found in the genre.
In one of his better performances, Robert Redford is perfectly cast as Bill Bryson, capturing the angst of the character with a sense of wonder that fits the environment of the film. Redford surpassingly captures the humor of the situation really well, and helps complete the character’s arc very well. The film’s strongest moments are often on his shoulders, and he delivers the emotional weight of the story.
Nick Nolte proves to be a great addition to the film, adding a lot of humor to the story and fitting well within the constraints of the character. Though some of his humor goes a little bit over the top, Nolte’s character is surprisingly relatable, and delivers a humorous portrayal of Stephen Katz that is also surprisingly effective in the more serious scenes. The great chemistry between Redford and Nolte carries the film, highlighting the best scenes and even working in the slower scenes.
A major addition to A Walk in the Woods is the great transition between emotional discussion and absurdist situational comedy. The film occasionally goes overboard with the comedy, it’s mostly successful, and most of the running gags actually work well, especially with some of the more unconventional plot points. Some of the side characters, specifically those of Emma Thompson and Nick Offerman, are slightly underdeveloped, but the actors do good work. It’s also very well paced, and at 104 minutes almost never drags.
A Walk in the Woods is a very entertaining buddy film, with great work from it’s lead actors and a great sense of style throughout, much of which is due to Ken Kwapis. It’s a successful and very entertaining, and one of the gems of the fall season. Grade: B-