A Walk In The Woods 2015 – Adventure/Comedy/Drama
Directed by Ken Kwapis
Starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal
Full Disclosure: This event was hosted by my cousin Mike Leonard who is the corporate relations and events officer at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Also there are some light spoilers ahead concerning the plot, but it’s a pretty famous story and it won’t ruin the movie I promise.
A few weeks ago I get a message from my cousin Mike who says he’s coming to town for the O.R. For those of you who don’t know, and I didn’t know, the O.R. is the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market that takes place every year in SLC, UT. It’s a big event here where all the leading outdoor product retailers (think camping, hiking, snowboarding/skiing, SUP boarding, etc) come together to see each others goods and to try and sell to stores and distributors as well as give the general public a chance to drool over the latest and greatest toys.
Anyway Mike’s in town to schmooze with the industry leaders and look for partnerships. Basically you give the ATC some money or equipment to help clean and preserve the trail, and in return you get to market yourself as environmentally friendly and doing good. Plus I assume tax breaks. It’s one of those rare actual win/win situations. The trail gets preserved, the environment stays cleaner, and companies get good PR. But it’s a ton of work. There are so many non profits and nature preserves and national park organizations and charities that can all offer the same sort of things. Sometimes you have to sell the purpose itself, sometimes it’s important to show how great something is and for a few years now the ATC has been partnering with Robert Redford and his production company on a project to bring a very famous book called “A Walk In The Woods” to the screen from the writer Bill Bryson, who Redford himself plays.
Now I had never read this book, which apparently is like a crime because everyone I say that to tells me to go get it immediately. But what I gathered from the movie is Bryson was in his 50s and getting restless when he decided he wanted to try and hike the entire Appalachian trail. He looks for a buddy to join him but everyone he knows thinks he’s crazy, that is until his overweight, bum knee, recovering alcoholic friend he hasn’t seen in forever offers to join and hilarity ensues. This guy Stephen Katz, played by the legendary (or maybe infamous) Nick Nolte, is not cut out for this trail but for one last adventure, one last grab at something truly youthful and glorious, these two guys set off anyway.
From there the movie goes pretty much how you would expect. It’s a buddy comedy about life and introspection. These two guys who aren’t cut out for the changing weather and hard landscape are embarking on what is, for a young healthy person, at least a 5 month journey. They deal with doubt and physical trials, they meet a bear and perhaps more frighteningly some of the other people on the trail. They learn to trust each other. They get in hilarious situations that they have to work together to get out of, but still find themselves as individuals. A lot of the typical feel good stuff.
But here’s the thing. The movie is really good. Like really good. Perhaps it’s because of the source material. There’s one point in the movie where Bryson asks Katz what he’s been up to and Katz says “I’ve spent half my life drinking and chasing pussy and the other half I’ve wasted.” The theater roared with laughter. It felt like a joke I hadn’t heard in years, but one that was classic.
And it’s definitely in the way Redford and Nolte interact and deliver those lines. These two guys together are brilliant, let’s be honest. The chemistry is there and you just want to go with them on this adventure just to be a fly on the wall and hear the jokes and stories. And you get that in this movie.
Another thing that this movie has is beauty. So, so much beauty. Let me start by saying that I’ve hiked exactly 15 miles of the AT in my life and it’s approximately 2200 miles long. I really did not realize just how much there is, and how many unbelievable mountains it goes up and through. It’s literally incredible and awe inspiring and the movie does it great justice. Sweeping drone shots fill the theater with blue skies and mountain tops as Bryson and Katz stare off probably thinking “Wooooowwwww.” In fact, about 10 times during the movie, my buddy and I turned to each other and said “So we could take 5 months off… let’s do this!”
In the end I had a lot of fun going to this one and I never in a million years would have picked it out without the invite from my cousin and the partnership with the ATC. I can’t say for sure that we’ll ever do the full hike, but I can guarantee that we’ll be back for sure to enjoy some of what the trail offers, and it really offers a lot. Oh yeah and check out this movie. It’s a good one.
Uh and one more thing. If you’re interested in doing the AT even just for a day trip, check out the conservancy’s website because they have tons of great information about how to do it safely and without leaving a trace. Preserve and conserve people.