A father ends up on a pilgrimage across Spain in The Way, a drowsy but interesting movie that is packed with Sheens.
Or, I suppose I should say, with Estevezes, since that’s everybody’s actual name. Two-thirds of the more famous of the Hollywood Estevez family — Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez — appear here. (I was initially going to say “two-thirds of the acting Estevezes” but it turns out that all of Sheen’s kids have done some acting — did you know daughter Renee Estevez was Betty Finn in Heathers?)
Tom (Sheen) is a comfortable doctor with a comfortable life whose main aggravation seems to be his son Daniel (Emilio, who also wrote and directed). A grown man, Daniel quit his post-graduate study and decided to, essentially, see stuff. He wanted to study cultures and places so he decided to do it firsthand — and this irks Tom, who wishes his son would just settle down.
Daniel’s latest adventure is to walk the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage path that stretches from France to Spain. Unfortunately, on his first day on the trail Daniel is killed in a storm in the mountains. Devastated, Tom comes to France to take Daniel’s body home. But instead he decides to have his son cremated and scatter the remains at points along the road — which means that Tom has decided to put his life on hold and walk the several-hundred-kilometer path, also known as The Way of St. James.
Tom is grieving for his son and he seems like a generally grumpy person but he still manages to make s few friends during his walk: Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), a seemingly happy man from Amsterdam; Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), an angry Canadian, and Jack (James Nesbitt), an Irish writer with writer’s block.
The Way is a Catholic movie, but in sort of a lapsed Catholic way. It isn’t interested in dogma or the, you know, God stuff. It’s more interested in the symbolism and the history. The pilgrimage that Tom takes is more about his son and the kind of relationship they have and the parts of his son that he chooses to remember and absorb. And it gets into the struggles that the different characters have — within themselves and with each other. Sure, a rosary makes an appearance, but it’s more for a quick chuckle than anything else. The Way’s true religion is the love of travel, particularly the kind of stripped down travel of the pilgrimage. There’s no shopping or museum-hopping; it’s all about the people you meet and the time you have.
And The Way does make the Camino seem very appealing (despite some icky scenes of the sleeping accommodations) much in the same way that I always get romantic ideas about the Appalachian Trail after reading about that. Only, as the Camino winds through France and Spain, including Basque country, I’m sure the food is a lot better. Also, I like the idea of a hike that includes a half bottle of wine at lunch.
What’s odd about The Way is how, despite its wide open setting, it feels a little stagy. There is a not-completely-rounded feel to the characters. They are a little too much what they represent and not enough people. Sheen comes the closest to making Tom feel genuine, even though you still sometimes feel like you’re reading the stage directions. C+
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, drug use and smoking. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, The Way is two hours and one minute long and distributed by Producers Distribution Agency.