A Walk In The Woods, film review: Old devils charm on a slow voyage of discovery

(15) Ken Kwapis, 104 mins Starring: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson
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The Independent Culture

In the 1970s, when he was emerging as a young actor in The Deep and Rich Man Poor Man, Nick Nolte was hailed as the "new" Robert Redford. Forty years on, he is partnering with his old rival in this adaptation of Bill Bryson's memoir about an epic walk along the Appalachian trail.

Taking its cue from its venerable stars, the film is on the doddery side but, in its better moments, it rekindles memories of the buddy movies that Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon made in their dotage. Redford, not a natural comedian, is amiable enough as Bryson while Nolte is in gruff, scene-stealing mode as his travelling companion and old friend Katz, a bearded, blustering ex-alcoholic with an instinct for getting into trouble. Katz is unhappy with the way his life turned out. He bemoans the fact that he has spent half his time "getting drunk and chasing pussy – and the other half I wasted".

Their journey is relatively uneventful. There are lots of jokes about poop and overpriced tents. It snows a bit. The bunk bed at the hostel collapses. The unhappy campers have a brief encounter with some bears, which turn out to be less terrifying than Nolte. Nolte gets into trouble when he tries to romance an obese woman whose knickers he shreds at a laundromat. The old devils bicker, confess and reminisce. The great American outdoors are shot in picturesque fashion by the ace cinematographer John Bailey. Emma Thompson has a cameo as Bryson's wife while Mary Steenburgen appears briefly as a hotel keeper he meets along the way. A Walk in the Woods is unabashedly sentimental and sometimes as slow-moving as its two curmudgeonly leads but it has an undeniable and redemptive charm.