A hiker who recently made the 2,200-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail complained about the lack of peace and solitude due to the large numbers of hard-partying hikers spoiling the splendor of nature.
The moral of that story is when you hike the Appalachian Trail you probably aren’t going to find what you were looking for and the reason is probably going to be because of other people.
That also happens to be the moral of “A Walk in the Woods,” where a retirement-aged travel writer, played by Robert Redford, takes to the trail with the only willing accomplice he can find, a gruff and estranged friend, played by the perfectly cast Nick Nolte.
At first glance, this is one of those overly-precious movies aimed at Baby Boomers that insists the lives of AARP members still matter while older people try and heartwarmingly fail to recapture their youth.
There is some of that in “A Walk in the Woods,” but thanks to the charm and savvy of the seasoned leads, they are able to find something deeper and more meaningful in what could have been little more than light-hearted fluff.
Redford plays real-life author Bill Bryson, a man whose life has become a little too comfortable. Instead of enjoying his golden years, Bill has grown restless and sees the potential for one last, great adventure in completing the entirety of the Appalachian Trail.
His family thinks he’s nuts, especially his wife, Catherine (the great Emma Thompson), who insists if he makes this trip he is not allowed to go it alone.
After being turned down by all of his friends and family, Bill hears from his long-lost friend Stephen Katz (Nolte), a crusty, hard-living, out-of-shape blast from the past who accepts Bill’s offer as his last, and only, resort.
The movie finds a lively pace when it hits the trail and while there are a few “we’re so old!” gags, most of the fun is simply found in the trials and tribulations of nature while two men reflect on taking two very different paths in life.
Redford is a stalwart and dependable as the Appalachian Mountains he walks across. There is a reason the guy is a living legend and, while we know all about his ability to portray pathos and earnestness, he doesn’t get enough credit for his shrewd comedic timing.
Nolte is essentially playing his public persona, but there is a gleam in his eye that lets us know he’s fully aware the audience is just as concerned as Bill is he could drop dead at any point along the journey.
The third main character is the Appalachian Trail itself. Shot on location, director Ken Kwapis fills the screen with nature’s splendor and does an excellent job of showing why the trail has an almost mystical effect on hikers.
In the end, “A Walk in the Woods” isn’t much more than a lark; but it has just enough meat on its bones to make it a lark worth your while. Plus, you won’t get any blisters or have to sleep in a tent. That seems plenty reasonable as far as I’m concerned.
“A Walk in the Woods” is rated R for language and some sexual references.