By Charly SHELTON
The Appalachian Trail runs from Georgia to Maine across 14 states. The length is cited at various measurements – the U.S. National Parks Services cites it, in one pamphlet, as both 2,155 and 2,200 miles. The Official Appalachian Trail Guides, a set of 11 books covering the trail in sections, gives the lengths of 2,144 miles, 2,147 miles, 2,159 miles and the more vague “more than 2,150 miles” – the list goes on with no exact consensus. Suffice it to say, it’s really,
really long. So when two guys in their 60s decide to hike from Georgia to Maine one spring, they are met with sideways glances, raised eyebrows and patronizing tones by those who learn of their plans. This is the subject of the new film starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.
“A Walk in the Woods” is based on a book of the same title by Bill Bryson. One of the foremost travel writers of all time, Bryson can make any subject amusing and interesting. Redford stars as Bryson, who gets the idea to hike the Appalachian Trail one day and sets out to do just that. Along with him is old college buddy Stephen Katz, played by Nolte. The two set out from Springer Mountain in Georgia and make their best go of it, getting heavily on each other’s nerves most of the way while growing closer as friends. The film is a buddy-road-comedy about nature, travel, the paths taken and not, and the importance of living with purpose.
Despite a deceptively simple plot of two guys going for a walk in the woods, there is so much heart to this film and, before you know it, you are heavily invested in the expedition, knowing that it is not about the destination but the journey.
The cast and crew of the film sat down for an interview with CV Weekly at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills and shared the overarching theme of the film for those involved – a deep love of nature.
“I think man in nature [is the theme that draws me to a project],” said Redford. “I think just those simple phrases – in nature, out of nature, against nature, with nature… I think nature should be so much a part of our lives and it’s being shrunk as we speak, it’s being taken away in so many places. The more it’s taken away, the more I feel that something is being lost. It puts me into a more aggressive mode of wanting to make films that show the relationship between nature and human beings.”
Redford read the book one summer on vacation and couldn’t put it down, he said. As soon as he returned home he obtained the rights for a screenplay and set to work with Paul Newman set to co-star. As Newman’s health became worse and he passed away, the project was reshelved for a few years. Then in collaboration with director Ken Kwapis and the addition of Nolte as Katz, the project was underway again.
Kwapis set out to make the story not only about two guys in the woods, but also the woods themselves.
“The AT is the third main character and that was something that I said to Bob when I first met him,” said Kwapis. “I think that from the get-go we talked about the trail as being not so much an obstacle but that the trail kind of speaks to them along the way.”
Nolte also has a connection to nature. He grows his own food and tries to be outside among the trees when he can.
“You know, I’m sane in nature,” said Nolte. “I’m a little insane with people. And that’s because of all the thinking, thoughts … In nature, I don’t have to do that.”
Redford continued. “Whatever I feel about nature has a lot to do with being comfortable with nature, has a lot to do with being, like Nick. You get bombarded by voices and thoughts and noise. And if you don’t get out of its way sometimes it can get overwhelming and you just lose yourself. So the idea of being able to go into nature, whether it’s on horse or on foot, and just be quiet and let nature speak to you the way it will speak to you – something happens that’s really special. That’s the way it has been for me so therefore you want to be able to somehow put that out there in the work you do.”
“A Walk in the Woods” is in theatres now. For those who have never read the book, it is highly recommended you do. It is one of the best books, if not the best book, I have ever read and brings another level of depth to the already amazing film, with side notes of botany, ecology, history and humor.
I give this film 5 out of 5 stars.