Emilio Estevez was a household name during the 1980’s and early 1990’s. He starred in several popular films such as “The Breakfast Club”, “Young Guns”, and “The Mighty Ducks”. After seemingly disappearing from the business, Estevez turned up behind the camera with “The Way”. He wrote, produced, and directed the film starring his real-life father Martin Sheen. “The Way” isn’t Estevez’s first foray into writing and directing. His first attempt was with 1986’s forgettable “Wisdom”. He later directed 2006’s slightly better “Bobby”. This time Estevez creates a simple but much stronger and more genuine film that I really enjoyed.
“The Way” is a reference to the Camino de Santiago, a spiritual and historical pilgrimage also known as “The Way of St. James”. It’s a long, arduous journey starting in France and ending at the Cathedrel of Santiago de Compostela in the small town of Galicia in northwest Spain. Thousands of individuals travel the Camino’s different routes each with their own personal and/or spiritual purposes. In the movie “The Way”, the Camino provides the main setting for this touching story of reconciliation and personal transformation.
Martin Sheen plays Thomas Avery, an Optometrist with a successful professional life but a troubled family life. Since the death of his wife several years ago, his relationship with his son Daniel (played by Estevez) has soured. While out on the golf course with friends, Thomas recieves a call notifying him that Daniel was killed during a storm in the Pyrenees mountains. Thomas flies to France to identify and bring back Daniel’s body. While there he discovers that Daniel was killed while walking the Camino de Santiago. Struggling to handle not only the death of his son but the strained relationship they shared, Thomas has the body cremated then takes Daniel’s gear and sets off on the Camino in hopes of finishing the journey for his son.
Estevez’s story could have easily evolved into a mushy, run-of-the-mill road picture but it never does. Sure it’s easy to predict and nothing happens that will catch you by surprise. But it’s a very sincere and sensitive film that doesn’t get caught up in overwrought sentimentality. Thomas’ journey feels authentic and personal and I couldn’t help but wonder if the real-life father-son connection had something to do with it. Along the way Thomas runs into several other pilgrims including Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), a Dutchman taking the journey to lose weight for his brother’s wedding, Jack (James Nesbitt) and Irish writer struggling with writer’s block, and Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), a Canadian who wants to quit smoking. Much like Thomas, each of these characters have more going on under the surface and each find themselves effected in different ways by their pilgrimage.
“The Way” also looks fantastic. Estevez took great effort to portray the Camino de Santiago reverently and authentically. The beautiful scenery and the quaintness of the small Spanish towns fills the movie with life and ambience. Also the ability to capture details of the pilgrimage does just as much to contribute to the atmosphere. Estevez proves to have a good eye and I was surprised at how well he handled the camera. It may not be the most polished example of filmmaking but I was impressed.
As I mentioned, “The Way” is a simple and straightforward story. It’s fairly predictable and it’s only real surprise is in how effective the movie is. It’s a heart-felt and inspirational film and even when the story meanders in the middle, I never felt uninterested or disconnected. It doesn’t shy away from it’s spiritual nature but it doesn’t bludgeon you to death with it either. “The Way” may not work for some people but I was moved by it despite it’s few shortcomings. One thing the movie stresses – the journey is often times more important than the destination and it left me wishing I could take a month off and make my own way to Galicia.