Movie Review: A Walk in the Woods

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Last night my friends Jennifer and Alisa and I went to see the pre-release screening of A Walk in the Woods presented by the Louisiana International Film Festival.The event itself was an experience. I’m not a member of the Film Festival, but the showing was free. You had to register, and they overbooked the theatre. So, I had to get there early and pick up my free pass. Members got to go in and get the best seats, but we peasants stood out in line until they let us in 5 at a time. I talked to the guy letting us in, and I think I might join next year. Every month they have free screenings, and members get all of these free gifts that the movie industry sends their way. Alisa’s Mom went to a big free party before the last showing. It seems like fun.

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Screenshot of photo of Andrew Vogel by Caleb Spillyard

The peasants got the seats down in the front rows. I felt like I was ON the Appalachian Trail, but hey, it was free. Hottie Andrew Vogel, who plays one of the hikers in the movie, was there to answer questions and kick off the event. It was kind of fun. He said Louisiana is THE place to be if you want to be in the movies these days. I guess this is one of those instances where Baton Rouge does NOT suck.

I loved the movie. I was anxiously awaiting it, but I had hoped to read the book prior to seeing it. I had no idea it was coming out this early, so I was blindsided by the opportunity. I also had no idea it was a comedy. I imagined this book was a beautiful, reflective look at hiking – ala Ralph Waldo Emerson with a hiking bent. Then I saw the trailer. It was totally shocked. I’m glad I saw the trailer, though. I would have totally been disappointed if I hadn’t. I was able to adjust my expectations.

I think I laughed out loud during the entire movie. Robert Redford and Nick Nolte have amazing timing together, and the subject of two old farts going on a long hike in the woods when neither is prepared for it has loads of opportunities for humor. Nolte’s dry, sarcastic, lewd wit played well against Redford’s quieter more subtle style. The scene when they encounter the bears stole the show. (You can find a clip online if you want to watch it, but I didn’t want to spoil it for you here.) Don’t go to the bathroom and miss that one.

The two take off on the Appalachian Trail as a “last hurrah”. Bryson didn’t actually invite Katz because they never really got along, but Katz found out and invited himself. Nolte is a physical mess. It was more of a buddy movie than a hiking movie. During the hike they have ups and downs and encounter a variety of natural obstacles that test their resolve, their friendship and their physical abilities.

Map of Appalachian Trail

app trail map

This was not a movie like Wild. I didn’t really learn anything about hiking those long trails. Never once did they pick up supplies. I didn’t learn anything about backpacking. In fact, they didn’t even show much ‘backpacking’ in the real sense of the word at all. The trail was teeming with people. They were always passing people like they were walking on a city street. That seemed really odd to me because I’ve never seen that many people on a hike. But I have heard that the Appalachian Trail is busy. Maybe that’s the way it is. Or maybe they just did that to provide interest and more character options.

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Vogel told us that one of the key scenes was filmed in a studio with green screen. He said it was cool to see what it looked like in the movie because it certainly didn’t look like that in the studio. I thought it looked fake while I was watching that scene. In fact, the one thing I had trouble with throughout the move was the fakeness of it all. After hiking as much as I have, I know what a trail and the woods look like. Some of the scenes looked natural to me, but most left me with a feeling like I was in the Disneyworld version of the Appalachian Trail. It was too clean and neat and perfect and not nearly as breathtaking as the real thing. At times it was hard for me to maintain my ‘suspension of disbelief’ because I kept waiting for a ticket taker to raise the bar and let me off the ride. Thankfully, the script was funny enough that I was able to play the edge the entire movie.

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Bill Bryson, the author

I was a bit bothered by the fact that two smoking hot movie star idols of my generation were now senior citizens. They were funny, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them, but my mind kept jumping to the realization of my own mortality and aging. I wanted them to take off their masks and be the beautiful people they once were. No, I didn’t want it …. I was begging and pleading for it. “Don’t let them be old,” I kept thinking. I want them to be around forever, and I want to be around forever, too. The thought of a “last hurrah” for any of us was just depressing.

Vogel said after the movie that he really enjoyed working with Redford and Nolte. He said that they ARE the characters in the movie. There wasn’t a lot of acting. He said Nolte was a mess and was trying to pan for gold in the stream. Redford was in pretty good shape and was kind and grounded. Someone asked if they really walked much of the trail. “No,” he laughed and shook his head “hardly any of it at all.”

My recommendation …. go see it and suspend your disbelief. Sometimes it’s worth it to laugh at something so hard that your sides hurt even if it has nothing to do with reality. The few real scenes of the Blue Ridge mountains are breathtaking and gorgeous. You’ll know which ones they are. They are not perfect and clean. Those scenes are the ones that make you audibly gasp and sigh. They are the ones where the laughter stills, and the screen goes silent. Looking beyond those mountains covered in a blanket of smoke – just like I did a few weeks ago in person – will make your soul long for a last hurrah. If Nolte and Redford can go for a long walk in the woods, so can you. And I bet you walk away from this movie believing it.

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