Review by Jack Foley
EMILIO Estevez continues to demonstrate genuine worth as a filmmaker with the deeply personal and ultimately very moving pilgrimage drama The Way, which also provides a wonderful showcase of his father’s acting ability.
Part-inspired by Martin Sheen’s religion and his own experience of the Camino, as well as by the ‘loss’ of Estevez’s own son to ‘the way’ (upon which he met his future wife, prompting a move from LA to Spain), the film is nevertheless a journey that viewers of every age can enjoy.
It’s not without flaws – the running time borders on extravagant, while some of the supporting characters are difficult to embrace – but at its heart, The Way offers a satisfying throwback to films where story and character matter, while also providing a fascinating insight into the real-life Camino de Santiago in Spain.
The film is predominantly about wealthy yet closed off doctor Tom (Sheen), whose comfortable existence is rocked by the sudden death of his globe-trekking son Daniel (Estevez) while in the Pyrenees attempting to complete the historic Way Of St James.
Arriving in Spain to collect his son and bring him home, Tom spontaneously decides to complete Daniel’s journey so that he can scatter his son’s ashes along the 800km journey – subsequently undergoing a life changing experience of his own that will see him, once again, become ‘a citizen of the world’.
Estevez’s film is made all the more poignant given the father-son dynamic that’s taking place on and off-screen, yet is guided throughout by a mesmerising central performance from Sheen, playing against real-life type as a lapsed Catholic struggling to come to terms with his son’s death and his own place in the world.
It’s a role that Sheen utterly embraces, turning Tom into a fascinating character whose own personal journey is thoroughly worth taking.
En route, of course, he meets a group of fellow pilgrims who slowly become something of a surrogate family… but while dope-smoking Dutchman Yorick Van Wageningen is a consistent delight who brings much-needed humour, Deborah Kara Unger’s initially hostile woman seeking redemption sometimes feels like too much of a caricature, while James Nesbitt’s frustrated writer is often too annoying and talkative for his own good.
Whenever Estevez opts to concentrate too much on the latter two characters, the film tends to feel its length.
That said, the Spanish locations add an extra dimension to the journey that could well inspire like-minded travellers to begin their own pilgrimage and Estevez does well to make most of the plot turns appear organic rather than contrived.
And given the arduous nature of the real-life walk itself, it’s probably right that viewers will sometimes feel as fatigued as the travellers themselves!
So, while by no means perfect Estevez’s film is quietly inspiring, sometimes provocative and ultimately blessed by a performance to savour from his masterful dad.
Running time: 128mins
UK DVD Release: October 31, 2011
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Martin Sheen interview
- Emilio Estevez interview
- The Way Photo Gallery
- Watch the trailer