Take “A Walk in the Woods”

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Hiking poles, REI and bears, oh my!

Based on the real-life journey of travel writer, Bill Bryson, and adapted from his 1998 book of the same name, “A Walk in the Woods,” tells the story of Bryson’s experience walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail with his estranged childhood friend, Stephen Katz.

Bill Bryson, wonderfully played by Robert Redford, has come to a fork in the road of life. Does he retire from traveling and writing completely, or does he owe himself one last adventure before letting it all go? The answer becomes the story arc for the rest of the film.

His wife, played by the beautiful Emma Thompson, is not happy about the trip. After telling Bryson a pile of stories about people who have died on the Appalachian Trail, she finally gives him her blessing on one condition: He must find someone to hike it with him.

When no one agrees to accompany him, Bryson gets a surprise call from an old friend, Katz, who he had lost contact with over the years. Katz is played, with perfection, by Nick Nolte who, when first introduced, stumbles off a plane and needs assistance from other passengers.

Neither man is in the best of shape, and it shows as they begin the trail with heavy breathing, stumbling and exhaustion.

The two characters don’t share the same philosophy about the trail and are on it for two different reasons. Bryson is determined to prove to himself that he can do one more adventure while Katz just wants to reunite with his old companion.

“A Walk in the Woods” might be compared to last year’s award-nominated, “Wild,” which features an inexperienced, damaged woman hiking another trail, exploring self discovery. But unlike the latter film, “Woods” is a feel-good movie with a mix of humor and heart. There are no gut-wrenching moments of emotion like “Wild,” but with what the film lacks in intensity, it makes up for with its stellar actors.

The casting of two acting veterans was a superb choice and gives the film a breath of fresh air. Redford and Nolte’s chemistry makes the characters’ reunion work. The oddball banter that occurs between the two on the trail is the highlight of the film. I wouldn’t put it past the Academy to give Nolte a best supporting acting nomination based on that alone.

The film stars a likable ensemble cast that features brief appearances by well-known actors such as the underused Nick Offerman as an REI employee, Mary Steenburgen as a motel owner and Kristen Schaal as an annoying hiker the men meet on the trail. Not only is the casting perfect, the film also features a noteworthy soundtrack with music by Lord Huron and cinematography of the Appalachian Trail that may just take your breath away.

With Hollywood continuously releasing films that are aimed directly at kids and young adults, it is a nice change of pace to sit through a movie that is about a journey of self discovery with people of the baby boomer generation.

Sometimes it’s not always about one’s destination, but one’s journey that is significant, no matter the age of the characters. For a few hours spent in the dark, Bryson’s journey was worth being a part of.

After leaving the theater, audiences of all ages will be wondering what kind of journey they will find themselves on and what trail they should take.

Erin Vierra can be reached at [email protected] or @hippycinephile on Twitter.