The movie, A Walk in the Woods, based upon the affable Appalachian Trail book by Bill Bryson, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah on Friday, January 23, 2015.
In spite of the star power of the lead actors, Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, critics who reviewed the film were unimpressed.
No release date has been set for when A Walk in the Woods will be in American theaters for the rest of us to view.
Although it might be hard to believe, some fluke of fate kept my personal invitation to the premiere from arriving in time. No doubt, it's in the mail.
Had I been there I would have shared my personal review with you. Alas, we are relegated to sharing the thoughts of critics who attended the opening and whose critiques were published.
We present them in no particular order. If you're not wild about reading unpleasant press about A Walk in the Woods, you might want to quit here and check your gear list for your 2019 thru-hike for the billionth time instead.
We regret that Bryson's reflections on life on the Appalachian Trail didn't translate onto film too well. Maybe someone else will give it a shot someday.
No matter what these critics write, I'm sure I'll buy a ticket to the show when it hits theaters. When we hear when that might be, we'll let you know.
Until that time, we offer excerpts of seven reviews from professional pundits.
Please click on the accompanying links for details.
It was just a few weeks ago that we all enjoyed a movie about a soul-searching thousand-mile hike. This time the same story is fodder for a comedy, but the movie could have been called "Mild."
The odd-couple pairing inspires a script that's short on reflection, drama, peril and even laughs. Redford's comic timing is poor, Nolte's acting is broad and the script relies heavily on setup-punchline sitcom exchanges like "Nice guys- I hate 'em!" If the boys are told there will be snow tonight, they'll look up to the blue sky and say, "That's crazy!" Smash-cut to: a massive blizzard.
Not much happens on the hike and when it does (such as when the friends find themselves stranded on a ledge above a cliff) there's no sense of danger.
Tame gags are about all the film has to offer. Major distributors were in attendance at the premiere; the chief of one of them left halfway through.
Rather like a fun, geriatric version of Wild, this long-aborning film version of Bill Bryson's enormously genial 1998 book A Walk in the Woods is a jolly good time, sparking dozens of chuckles and a few strong laughs.
Nothing special cinematically, it still provides a welcome showcase for wonderful star turns by Robert Redford, who also produced, and Nick Nolte as two oldsters who attempt to hike the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.
With smart handling, this breezy entertainment should become one of those occasional films that draws a significant older audience out of their homes and into cinemas.
That screenwriters Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman, as well as director Ken Kwapis, have hit upon the right droll tone is evident from the set-up in the opening scenes, in which Redford, playing Bryson himself, gives an awkward TV interview and then says all the wrong things at a friend's funeral. It's amusing that such an accomplished writer is shown as having such a bad way with words socially.
There's a simple, old-style TV straightforwardness to Kwapis's presentation of events. The majority of scenes, including some delightful ones as the men shop for equipment and make arrangements, are aimed for, if not outright laughs, then smiles, little hiccups of amusement or at least a sort of nodding recognition of the little truths about inter-personal relations that are registered throughout.
Anyone expecting this epic journey to result in profound insights into the human condition will be disappointed; at a certain point, whether the men reach the physical end of the trail or just hop off when they feel they've done enough, the hike will end but life will continue.
The film is equally unpretentious, not posing as something it isn't but, at the same time, reminding that there are options, including temporary ones like a jaunt in the mountains, that can represent breaks from the routine and put you in a different place mentally as well as physically.
As in much else in life, it's not so much the destination as the experience of getting there, and so it is with the almost entirely pleasurable A Walk in the Woods.
The movie is sprightly despite starring two men in their 70s, with Nolte particularly showing some gusto in physical scenes you wouldn't think he could do -- but he does.
He also shows some underappreciated comic timing as a guy who's a mess, a hound dog, a recovering drinker and an unrepentant rebel.
Robert Redford and Nick Nolte go for "A Walk in the Woods" in Ken Kwapis' broad, bland adaptation of Bill Bryson's 1998 tome. Like that mildly amusing travel-memoir-cum-elongated-humor-column, there's light diversion but little substance in this tale of two grumpy old men making a predictable hash of their effort to hike the Appalachian Trail. The appeal of the cast names and the equally venerable scenic vistas should lure older audiences, though whether they'll get out to theaters or wait for home-format delivery is an open question.
Casting the 78-year-old Redford lends this quest a fear-of-mortality undercurrent duly spelled out in Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman's competent but uninspired screenplay.
It's pleasant enough cinematic comfort food, but even so, you may be hungry again soon afterward.
Most of the supporting cast have fairly unsubstantial parts, basically just breaking up what might have been monotonous if it was just Redford and Nolte. Emma Thompson is as great as always playing as Bryson's wife, while Nick Offerman appears for just one scene as a camping equipment salesman. Kristen Scala appears for a little longer than that as an annoying hiker they meet on the trail and Mary Steenburgen as the proprietor of a small motel where they stay.
Most likely, all of these actors agreed to do this because it would be a day's work and it would allow them to work with Redford and Nolte, so who can blame them?
A Walk in the Woods just doesn't work as a whole and when it comes down to it, the only one who can take the blame is director Ken Kwapis.
Sundance 2015: Taking 'A Walk in the Woods' is Exhausting & Wasteful.
When Robert Redford, the founder of the Sundance Film Festival, has a film playing here in Park City, you hope for the best.
It wasn't Redford's idea to premiere A Walk in the Woods at Sundance, but instead that decision came from John Cooper, director of programming. Perhaps it would have been better to let the film lie, because it does not belong here in the mountains as part of the most prestigious independent film festival in the United States.
A Walk in the Woods is a massive disappointment across the board with mediocre performances, poor production quality, and a story that meanders more than the characters.
The pairing of veteran actors like Nolte and Redford should have made for an entertaining on-screen duo, but neither of them seem fully invested in the half-baked script from Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman. The acting duo has chemistry, but Redford isn't anywhere near as dedicated to his character as Nolte. Sometimes Redford feels like he just read the script for the first time that day.
The other major issue is the stunningly bad production quality. A Walk in the Woods has some of the worst green screen shots I've ever seen in a film. And we're talking simple green screen shots of two people walking, not anything visual effects heavy.
On a related note, the pivotal final scene where our characters are meant to really bond is overshadowed by a noticeably fake set, complete with an awful backdrop that takes you right out of what should be the beauty of nature.
A Walk in the Woods is nothing but a comedy that lacks direction, both in the story arc of our characters, and also in any talent behind the camera. Perhaps I was expecting too much from Ken Kwapis, the director of Big Miracle, He's Just Not That Into You and License to Wed, but when you have actors like Redford and Nolte on board, both who work sparingly in front of the camera nowadays, in a film at Sundance, there should be something higher in quality.
I would say that your grandparents will love this movie, but I feel like that would be insulting to the elderly. Somewhere in another timeline there's a good version of this movie Redford made with Paul Newman. But sadly, this version is what we got.
A Walk in the Woods **1/2
Ken Kwapis' film of Bill Bryson's book is not one that conjures ferocious superlatives, but adjectives like "mild" and "pleasant." Its mild pleasantness is its greatest strength, principally in the amiable chemistry between Robert Redford (as Bryson) and Nick Nolte (as his old friend Stephen Katz) as they undertake the mildly foolish--if pleasantly so--task of hiking the Appalachian Trail, beginning in Georgia and ending in Maine.
There is nothing in the way of dramatic stakes, or even conflict, to disturb the reverie; it's just two old guys with razor-sharp comic timing walking through the woods and occasionally running into irritating young people.
Redford in particular is a marvel to watch, hitting every note perfectly and with grace. Nolte, although his growl frequently defeats the best efforts of the sound mix to contain him, also gives an affecting performance as the disreputable Mr. Katz.
Some of the comic business falls flat, but enough of it works that the enterprise succeeds in its modest, unobtrusive goals. It also serves as a reminder that Mary Steenburgen (who appears briefly) is one of America's greatest treasures, and any movie that does so is allowed to exist for that alone.
Tags: Attractions, Appalachian Trail, News, Movies, Entertainment, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer
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