The definition of “bromance” is a close, but non-sexual relationship between two men. Surely, when seeing a movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, the word “bromance” should not come to mind.
Alas, ”A Walk in the Woods” is the very definition of a bromance. It’s also a disposable, light-hearted comedy that is best described as “Grumpy Old Men 3: The Hike.” But if you’re going to make a movie about two old guys attempting to hike the Appalachian Trail, it’s a good idea to get Redford and Nolte to do it.
Redford is Bill Bryson, a travel writer that has been all over the world, written scores of books, but never once written a word about his home country, the good ole’ USA. After living abroad for several decades, he and his English wife, Catherine (Emma Thompson), now live in New Hampshire and spend their time doing all the things that semi-retired people do, such as attend funerals and discuss maladies.
Wanderlust sets in and Bryson, for reasons later discovered, decides that he wants to hike from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. Catherine, quickly seeing the lunacy and danger in this, demands that Bryson does not attempt this dangerous trek alone.
After being rejected to half court by everyone he knows, Bryson gets a phone call from Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), who volunteers for this journey after learning about it through the grapevine. Bryson desperately agrees, even though Katz is an overweight recovering alcoholic with two bum knees.
The biggest joy in “A Walk in the Woods” is watching Redford and Nolte verbally jab at each other via passive aggressive insults. The sparring takes place between grunts and wheezes as these two men in their seventies hike, camp, and meet interesting people in truly breathtaking settings.
In fact, “A Walk in the Woods” should have “Nature” as the top billed star. While a director with expertise in shooting dialogue may have brought even more out of this Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman script, director Ken Kwapis and cinematographer John Bailey excel at highlighting the striking, untouched beauty that still exists in the United States of America.
Like last year’s “Wild”, “A Walk in the Woods” should cause an uptick in the hiking industry. Unlike that dramatic personal journey, this movie chooses friendship as its main theme. It rarely strolls into emotional cheesiness and instead focuses on small moments of humor that sometimes land and sometimes do not.
It’s slightly heartbreaking to learn that Redford, who produced this film, had originally intended for this to be a 1990s reunion with Paul Newman. While that would have rated high on the nostalgia meter, the movie may be better served with Nolte as Katz.
This is easily the most committed and in tune role for Nolte in years. There’s some art imitating life with Nolte, as he’s a bit of broken man with several problems, but Nolte is comforting, charming, and makes it extremely easy to root for him. He is also a world class user of profanity, which he dishes out at all times.
It’s no wonder why this book (written by real life Bill Bryson) attracted Redford many years ago. He plays Bryson as a stoic, reserved gentleman, which is perfect as Redford himself is a stoic, reserved gentleman. Unlike other movies with older people seeking their younger self, he never truly changes. There are moments when Redford lets loose, drops an F-bomb, or actually participates in Katz’s zaniness, but he never loses himself or has an epiphany.
“A Walk in the Woods” is about two men that lost touch as their lives tore them in different directions due to responsibility and the lack thereof. Sure, there are a few gags that fall flat and set ups that haven’t been funny in approximately fifty years, but there’s just something about seeing Redford and Nolte in top form that makes this an enjoyable 104 minute treat.