Both tales center on careers involving words and books -- one about a man who's a successful writer, the other about a woman who's a successful editor and literary critic.
In A Walk in the Woods Robert Redford teams up with a very eccentric old friend (a bloated, rumpled and gargle-voiced Nick Nolte) to hike the Appalachian Trail. It's an audacious challenge that also appears to be undertaken several decades too late.
You've heard of a road picture? Well, this is a trail picture. And, it's loaded with gorgeous views of the legendary trail that stretches from Maine to Georgia. The trail is long, rugged and not for the faint of heart.
It's great to see Redford back on the big screen again and he plays his role in a sly, understated fashion. Hard to believe but Redford is 79-years-old now and is slower and ruddy but nonetheless manly. He does nothing to try to hide his age. There he is, up on the screen just as you might encounter him in real life.
In this film Redford and Nolte are joined by Emma Thompson in a supporting role as Redford's wife and she's wonderful, as usual.
The movie is slow at times but that's OK. This is a contemplative film that's lightly peppered with funny bits and often revealing moments. Redford originally wanted the late Paul Newman to co-star with him in this tale but it was not to be. Still, there is one scene of Redford and Nolte on the edge of a cliff looking down that will put you in mind of the final scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
A Walk in the Woods is a sweet film with a gentle message about man, nature and the vastness of our seemingly infinite universe.
Learning to Drive stars Patricia Clarkson as Wendy, a successful book editor and critic who takes driving lessons with instructor Darwan (Ben Kingsley) after the breakup of her marriage to Ted (Jake Weber) forces her to become more self-sufficient. The movie focuses on the unlikely friendship that develops between two very different New Yorkers. Wendy is a sharp-tongued sophisticate searching for her independence while Darwan, is a gentle Indian Sikh cab driver with an impending arranged marriage. As Darwan teaches Wendy how to drive, they both learn valuable lessons about relationships, life, and the value of friendship. Here, the film exhibits marked similarities to A Walk in the Woods. And, the interaction of the two main characters and the challenges that they face proves to be enticing and satisfying.
Patricia Clarkson is a beautiful, sexy woman and an accomplished actress who seems to shine on the stage and in small, independent films. Ben Kingsley is a revered Academy Award winner who can play almost any role. They play off each other in such a natural, subtle way that they make you forget you're watching a movie.
And, here again the tale is dotted with intelligent doses of humor including a scene where a date tries to introduce Clarkson to the benefits of tantric sex.
With its ongoing generational and culture clashes, its quick wit and its snapshots of urban angst, Learning to Drive introduces us to an America that was unthinkable only a decade or two ago.
It's refreshing to encounter movies that neither cater to the youth culture nor patronize and mock those over a certain age. These two films manage that delicate balance with substance and grace -- and that's all too rare these days!