Monday, September 7, 2015

A Walk in the Woods

3/4

Starring: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson

Rated R for Language and Some Sexual References

One of the reasons why Robert Redford has survived in Hollywood over the years (despite the fact that age hasn't been good to him) is his effortless charm.  He's so disarmingly charming and likable with such a warm presence that it's impossible not to like him in the movies.  That quality has permeated into many of the films he has starred in ("Sneakers," for example).  Add "A Walk in the Woods" to that list.

"A Walk in the Woods," directed by TV vet Ken Kwapis, isn't any sort of groundbreaking movie.  It's not going to show up at the Oscars (except perhaps for the cinematography, although it's a longshot).  It's not going to be on my Top 10 list when I compile it at the end of December.  It is however warm and occasionally funny.  It's a nice and relaxing time at the movies.

Travel writer Bill Bryson (Redford) is feeling a little lost at the moment.  He's growing more aware of his age, so to shake things up, he decides to hike the 2180-mile long Appalachian Trail.  His wife Catherine (Thompson) thinks he's nuts and, failing to talk him out of it, insists that he go at it with a friend.  There are no bites until an old friend of his, Stephen Katz (Nolte), calls him up and asks to join.  Despite his history of drinking and carousing, Bill agrees.  The trip is not without its setbacks (a run in with two bears) or hijinks (avoiding a painfully irritating fellow hiker played by comic Kristen Schaal).

In a buddy movie like this, chemistry is of paramount importance.  We must see that the two leads "click" in some way.  Without that, the movie is sunk.  Fortunately, grizzled screen vets Robert Redford and Nick Nolte work well together.  This isn't a career best for either of them, but they're more than good enough.  It's fun to spend time with them.  Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen appear, but their screen time is limited to little more than cameos.

Director Ken Kwapis doesn't have a sterling resume.  Apart from directing a host of TV episodes, his films have the reputation of being safe and cookie cutter.  This is the first film I've seen from him, and while it is effectively told, there's nothing about it that stands out.  The cinematography is bland, character development is limited and by-the-book, and the film takes few risks.  It's a little on the long side, but at the same time it ends too quickly.  I would have like to have spent a little more time with these geezers.

So it's not a perfect movie, but it's definitely a pleasant one.

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