After having two smash hits together — Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1968) and The Sting (1973) — Robert Redford and Paul Newman had often talked about reteaming but waited decades to finally find the right property. Redford, with his producer’s hat on, thought he had found it in the 1998 Bill Bryson book A Walk In The Woods, which chronicles the late-in-life hike Bryson took on with a friend named Stephen Katz along the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail. Unfortunately, before the movie version could really get going, Newman became ill and died. Still Redford persisted with the project and finally landed a co-star, Nick Nolte. The result, as I say in my video review (click the link above), is at times very broad comedy and at other times a touching rumination on aging and living life to the fullest no matter how old you are.
The movie, which premiered in January at Redford’s Sundance Film Festival, is perfect fodder for Labor Day weekend where it opens in about 1800 theaters from new distributor Broad Green Pictures. Redford plays the retired Bryson who, much to the objections of his wife (Emma Thompson), decides to take on a dream hike along the Georgia-to-Maine Appalachian Trail. His efforts to find someone to accompany him hit tin ears until out of desperation he teams up with Katz (Nolte), the one guy willing to take the plunge. On the surface, this old friend is the complete opposite of Bryson, a bit of a philanderer who sees the trip as a way to evade his current troubles. He also doesn’t look like the kind of guy who would last a day on the trail, but appearances deceive and the pair take off on the late adventure of a lifetime, running into all sorts of obstacles and colorful characters along the way. It is fun to see both stars doing a light comedy like this in a movie that, in another era, might have been perfectly suited for a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby-style road picture.
Working with a script from co-producer Bill Holderman and Rick Kerb, director Ken Kwapis skillfully captures just the right tone along the way to make sure the picture doesn’t veer off into too broad a direction and fall off the proverbial cliff. In addition to the many lighter moments, there are some nice smaller scenes including one where this odd couple actually almost does fall off a cliff. Stuck there on a crevice they share thoughts on life and the earth around them that becomes a highlight of the film. Redford and Nolte make the perfect pair who are always believable as human beings despite the shtick.
It’s very interesting to see how time has treated the two stars, at least judging by their appearances here. Redford hasn’t lost the movie star allure, while Nolte has clearly headed into character actor territory. Both prove adept at comedy. In smaller supporting roles are Kristen Schaal as an obnoxious hiker they meet, Mary Steenburgen as the warm proprietor of a motel they stop in, and Nick Offerman in a bit role as a guy who sets them up for their journey. Thompson in her few scenes that bookend the film is, as always, a welcome presence. Redford, Holderman and Chip Diggins produced the film.
Do you plan to see A Walk In The Woods? Let us know what you think.