A throwback to the Newman/Redford buddy Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, occurs towards the end of A Walk in the Woods. Bryson (Redford) and Katz (Nolte) are trapped at the edge of a cliff, and the only way out is to jump into the river below. It’s not the first time this genial, finely scripted, richly performed film recalls the peerless pairing of the two heartthrobs from a generation ago. Originally Redford pencilled the film of the Bill Bryson book to start shooting in 2009 with Newman playing Katz, unfortunately Newman succumbed to cancer in September of 2008. The loss of Newman is compensated with the casting of Nolte as Katz. He delivers one of his best performances in years. Director Kwapis armed with a terrific script from Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman seems to know when to stand back and let his performers showcase their talent. Nolte and Redford, armed with some terrific dialogue appear to be having the time of their lives.
The story begins as the uncomfortable Bryson is recovering from a disastrous TV interview, in which the interviewer does most of the talking, Bill Bryson makes the impetuous decision to walk the 2,100 mile Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine. The only thing the two have going for them is a heartbeat and a full set of limbs. As they start the walk a group of scouts quickly passes them, Katz comments, “little fuckers”. A short time later he mutters “kill me now”. This is the tone of the film, Bryson as the serious, sarcastic, thinker and Katz as the seriously out of shape, recovering alcoholic with a thirst for life. Bryson occasionally pours scorn on his long lost friend, “Always running from something, all these years your stuck at square one.” We learn along the trail that Katz is on the run from a 30 day Jail sentence. “Women love a felony record.” Will these two cantankerous old fuckers finish the walk or not? For the audience witnessing two fine actors at it doesn’t really matter.