Walk in the Woods
Right up front, I have to confess I have read Bill Bryson’s Walk in the Woods three times and counting. Each time I read it, I am transported to a world I would never experience without it. I don’t hike. I am mortally afraid of bears. And the thought of lying down in rat droppings is simply beyond my imagining. But with each reading, I get to know the Appalachian Trail more intimately and feel the grandeur of knowing America has vast beauty left to enjoy. (Although Bryson warns us, that beauty is fading fast.)
I was impressed Ken Kwapis and his writers, Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman did not try to recreate the book. What they did do was put together vignettes, episodes similar to the book but more adaptable to the screen. The cliff fall, the overnight on the ledge with rescue, for example, were not in the book but fit the two older versions of Bryson and Katz - two guys truly needing rescue. In a wisely shortened version of the book, they also captured the humor of the crazy irate husband encounter when Katz delivered more than a pair of panties to a local married lady. Though there was not one in the book, Hollywood did have to add a bear scare to compete with more grizzly films out there. (Pardon the pun.)
About the women. Emma Thompson plays Bryson’s wife with wonderful sensitivity. I would like to have seen more of her. Kristen Schaal as Mary Ellen was perfect – just the right amount of annoying. I did, however, feel the flirting by Mary Steenburgen as Jeannie was an unneeded piece of business. And we all could have done without a few of the sexist and demeaning comments by Katz about fat women and women in general. But that’s Katz.
About half way through the movie, having listened to the Women’s League ladies next to me guffaw until they exhausted themselves, I began to sit back and truly enjoying watching Robert Redford and Nick Nolte just act, as they have done remarkably well for at least three decades. I personally never liked Nolte much in his past roles - made uneasy with his n’er do wells, down and outers, or depressed victims of abuse. But I can say he was amazing in this film. He captured Stephen Katz to his very soul. Katz is the Everyman of this insane millennium. Out of work, fighting booze, avoiding drugs, running from the law, and Nolte nailed him – inside and out.
Surprisingly, Redford plays straight man to Nolte’s Katz throughout the movie. A very subtle performance which, in my opinion, turned the film into The Stephen Katz Story rather than Bill Bryson’s walk in the woods.
These two trudge on through the wilderness, catch up after years apart, and even find a new affection for each other. That’s why I missed a good bear hug at the end as Katz boarded the bus for Des Moines. (Pardon the pun.)