This film is based on Bill Bryson’s book of the same name, and stars 79 year-old Robert Redford as Bryson. The film is directed by Ken Kwapis (He’s Just Not That Into You).
Bryson has made a living out of traveling and then writing about it. After a particularly challenging television interview while plugging his books, and then attending the visitation of a friend with wife Catherine (Emma Thompson), he decides to take a walk near his home in New Hampshire to think things over. You can tell he’s unsettled. There he sees a sign pointing to the Appalachian Trail and gets the idea to leave his wife for six months and hike the trail.
Catherine thinks he’s crazy and tries to talk him out of it, saying he certainly can’t do it alone and it’s just too dangerous. After everyone he calls turns him down, out of the blue his old college buddy Stephen Katz, played by the 74 year-old and badly out of shape Nick Nolte, contacts him and offers to walk the trail with him. The two have not seen each other for years after having a falling out, but decide to make the trip together. Note: in real life Bill Bryson and his friend were each 44 years old when the trip took place.
While Bryson has achieved much success since the two parted ways, Katz has not. He’s struggled with alcoholism and trouble with the law. The two are definitely an “Odd Couple”, with Bryson stopping to discuss the various types of rocks he sees contrasted with the rugged Katz constantly using profanity, and his mind often on sex. But the two join forces to travel to Georgia in March, intending to walk the entire 2,180 mile trail through 14 states to Maine. What follows is often a very funny depiction of their trip and what they run into (beautiful scenery, bears, people and inclement weather).
One of the people they run into is Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal) an annoying, obnoxious fellow hiker who talks endlessly and is a know it all. Bryson and Katz finally have something in common – working together to ditch Mary Ellen. Another person they encounter is hotel/restaurant owner Jeannie (Mary Steenburgen) who openly flirts with Bryson.
I really enjoyed the film and laughed out loud on several occasions. I enjoyed the acting performances of Redford and Nolte and the beautiful scenery we occasionally get to see.
The film is rated “R” for a significant amount of adult language, mostly from Katz and often quite funny. However, my biggest concern with the film, and it is a big concern, was the way in which God’s and Jesus’ names were abused – each at least fifteen times – and I cringed each time.
As Christians watching films, we need to be discerning. John Piper has said “In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches that the first priority in praying is to ask that our heavenly Father’s name be hallowed.” Our culture certainly does not abide by that – in our personal conversation, and in our films and television programs. My lower rating of this film is due to how God’s and Jesus’ names are abused.
This was the second film Redford and Nolte starred in together, the first being 2012’s The Company You Keep. Interestingly, the original plan was to have Paul Newman play the Katz character in the film. But problems in getting the film made, Newman’s declining health and eventual death in 2008 prohibited that.