All films need a good story. This one is funny, it has great acting, has beautifully photographed scenery...but it isn't enough because there isn't enough plot to keep you interested. One of running themes in the arts when I was living in Britain was about just how unsuccessful the British film industry is. We seemed to have good actors who seem to be able to compete with the Americans. Our guys cans can knock Shakespeare out the summer-festival park; and we could make great TV adaptations of Jane Austin novels and our TV advertising is much cleverer and more sophisticated and wins awards all over the world for art direction. But our film industry is a dead loss. No one seems to want to go to see the films.
One view as to why came from a Brit who directed box-office hits in Hollywood called Michael Winner (who made Death Wish films starring Charles Bronson in the 1970s). He said that the difference between British film makers and their American counterparts was that the Americans tried to make films that were commercially successful, whereas British filmmakers tried to make films that would impress their friends at dinner parties, and unfortunately that's all they manage to impress.
If you were characterize what he is getting at, British (and European film) tries to be high art, while American film tries to entertainment. I think he's right. I go to see movies because I want to be entertained first, and for all the Shakespearean talent they employ, and no matter how deep and profound the character development, often as not I find British and European films dull. I studiously try to avoid anything with subtitles. I know I'm going to find them self-consciously arty and as dull as watching paint dry...there was even Spanish film about watching paint dry called the Quince Tree Sun. This is possibly one of the dullest movies ever made. It won loads of awards of course.
What seems to be forgotten by the Europeans is that film is basically a medium for telling a story, and if you don't have a good story well told, you don't have a good film. This is the problem with A Walk in the Woods. It is an American film, but it seems to be suffering from the British disease!
It is based on the book by the travel writer Bill Bryson about walking the Appalachian Trail. I went to see it because I like Bill Bryson's books. Each one is usually a serious of very amusingly related stories and encounters. The only threads connecting each event are Bryson's presence and the place where the book is set. This seems to work in the books, but it just doesn't work in this film. There just isn't enough plot - we want a logical transition from beginning, to middle and to end - to hold it together and it isn't there.
The jokes are funny, Robert Redford is good as the laconic, deadpan Bryson; Nick Nolte is brilliant as his bad tempered companion. The encounters with bears and with eccentric walkers in the trail are hilarious, and the scenery is beautiful. But in the end we really can't work out why these two guys who are so obviously unsuited physically for the job are trudging this 1,000 mile trail from Georgia to Maine; or what makes it interesting enough to film it. Finally, it seemed neither could the characters. It finished with Redford asking Nolte, 'You want to go home don't you?' At which point Nolte answers, 'Yes.' And they leave the trail. Nolte catches the greyhound back to the Midwest, Redford to Hanover, New Hampshire...and that's the end of the film.
It also the end of this review.