Now Playing is a new series in The Cairn’s reviews that informs readers about films featuring the great outdoors. All of the films discussed have been released in theaters, at film festivals, or on streaming sites such as Netflix.
A Walk in the Woods, based on Bill Bryson’s 1998 book A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail follows the hike of two old, out-of-touch friends as they attempt the 2,189 mile foot path from Georgia to Maine. Disagreements, hijinks, and “Grumpy Old Men” jokes between Bryson (Robert Redford) and Katz (Nick Nolte) provide amusement and laughs along the way.
Primarily shot on location at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia, the woods, geologic features, trail, and vistas are beautifully captured. The AT passes through the following 14 states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts,Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Those looking for a true taste of what the trail looks like will only get a small sample.
The hikers themselves also look good through the camera lens. Maybe a little too good. Thru-hikers interacting with the two men are immaculately clean and well-dressed, especially when you consider that they are meant to be spending 5 – 7 months hiking. I’ve never seen such pristine bandannas. The gear and outfits are gorgeous and definitely tempted me to go shopping. Stephen Katz is the only character who is dirty and worn-down enough to be authentic. A scene of Katz sporting knee-high socks and a black rain poncho while doing laundry on a rest day comes to mind. In fact, he is the one character holding the film together, despite it being Bryson’s narrative.
The film chooses to end the adventure a bit abruptly when the decision is made to leave the trail after spending the night on a precarious ledge under a million stars. It would have been nice for us geeks to have more of the trail! In Bryson’s book, he returned later to complete shorter segments and an attempt by both Bryson and Katz is made in the 100 mile wilderness of Maine.
Ending on a few sensitive moments (I recall Bill Bryson to be much more of a cynic in his writing) and a reflective tone, the film wraps things up nicely with the author typing the title of the book on his computer.
An enjoyable movie that I recommend renting for a rainy night at home on the couch once available on DVD/Blu-ray.