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A Walk in the Woods

Year: 2015
Production Co: Route One Entertainment
Director: Ken Kwapis
Writer: Michael Arndt/Bill Holderman/Bill Bryson
Cast: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal

Most of us would never dream Robert Redford would appear in a bad movie, but this film only proves how little control actors have over the final product. Plenty of interesting stuff was probably shot, but the final assembly is a turgid mess.

Grey nomads and fans of Bill Bryson's books will be taken in by it and enjoy the lithe, ineffectual humour and creaky interplay between Redford (playing the author) and Nick Nolte as his old friend and travel companion. But it's dreadfully episodic, picking up and dropping characters, situations and subplots like chapters in a vaguely connected anthology.

Worse still, Redford and Nolte might have convincingly sold the thin/nonexistent plot had their relationship been a bit more interesting and lively, but they both look so tired and disinterested in being there you can almost see them reaching for their cheques on camera. Nolte in particular is so old and grizzled you expect him to creak like an old log cabin when he moves. How we're to believe he's going to walk the Appalachian trail is a stretch at best.

After a celebrated life of travel and a career in letters, Bryson (Redford) is feeling age creep up on him despite his happy marriage to Emma Thompson and a loving extended family.

He hits on the idea of taking a long, unforgiving hike across the northeast of America, and with his usual friends either too old, too dead or not interested in taking on such a young man's pursuit, he reluctantly recruits Katz (Nolte), a vagabond drunk who's the only one interested.

The two men set off, and their adventures (meeting a supremely irritating young woman – Kristen Schaal – they're soon hiding from, being visited by grizzly bears in the night, romantic entanglements with a plus sized town lady, falling down a ravine and facing mortality) are all over as soon as they begin.

None of it's enough to sink your teeth into narratively, instead forming a kind of nebulous mass that's more interested in the tone (two funny, bickering old men walking through the wilderness) than any kind of story.

Nolte was never an Oscar contender, TV-level director Kwapis seems a fair enough choice, but Redford is far better than this. I bet Bryson is too.

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