Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 44 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 1; Language 4; Sex/Nudity 5.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.
The main reason for seeing this modest story based on travel writer Bill Bryson’s 1998 book about hiking the Appalachian Trail is to watch two seasoned actors strut their stuff as they interact amusingly with each other and Mother Nature. Robert Redford years earlier had wanted to produce this film with his buddy Paul Newman as his co-star, but apparently could not get everything together before the latter’s death in 2008. There need be few regrets, however, that the shaggy faced Nick Nolte was his second choice, the two playing off each other wonderfully. Whereas Bryson was in his mid-forties when he took to the woods, both actors are in their seventies, so the film adds a geriatric note absent from the book.
Bill Bryson (Redford) decides to hike the Trail after attending a funeral and realizing that he is not getting any younger. His wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) is appalled at the idea of him trying to hike the 2200 mile trail alone, giving in only when he agrees to find a companion. All of his more sensible friends turn him down, but one of them has kept in touch with Stephen Katz (Nolte), a long ago friend whom Bill had dropped because of an unpaid loan. Bill is surprised when Stephen calls to invite himself along. Dubious at first, Bill agrees because—well, it’s either Stephen or no hike. When he and Catherine see the shaggy, overweight geezer disembark from the plane, they realize that hiking with this guy will not be just “a walk in the woods.”
The two fly to the southern terminal of the Trail and head north. They haven’t even gone a mile when Stephen needs to sit down for a rest. It is April, plenty of time for normal hikers to trek up to the end in Maine by fall, but with this out of shape guy…?
The pair are a delight to behold as, pushed far beyond what their 70+ year-old bodies should endure, they cope with sore muscles, two bears, a fall onto a shelf of rock, a snowstorm in April, drenching rain, and various stripes of people—even a touch of romance when they stop for a night at a motel.
The photography is gorgeous, displaying the lovely scenery that rewards those willing to go out of their way to experience it. One shot of the two suddenly emerging from trees onto a ridge from which the forested mountains can be seen for miles is especially memorable. There is little profundity in the script, possibly the most touching moment coming when, discussing why they wanted to make the trip, Stephen confesses that he wants to renew their lost friendship. If you liked the funny film about two old men traveling to Iceland, Land Ho, you will surely enjoy this one as well. Although I would not want to go on such a venture with a stumblebum like Nolte’s Stephen, watching him and his hapless companion from the safety of a theater seat was a delight.
This film with a set of discussion questions will be in the Oct. issue of VP.