by Tim Ross
There are moments in our lives when we find ourselves on a path to an important destination. We don’t always know why we’re on the path or even how we got there, we just know it’s the place we needed to be. Emilio Estevez’ latest offering as a writer and director, “The Way,” will remind anyone who has ever walked such a path that it’s always about the journey and not the destination.
Estevez has been a writer for more than two decades, honing his directing craft in television over the last few years. But “The Way” is his most thoughtful, intelligent work yet. He’s an artist who has traveled a path of his own and most certainly learned along the way.
Starring Estevez’ father, Martin Sheen, “The Way” is a travelogue, inspirational film and tender comedy all in one. Tom Avery (Sheen) is an ophthalmologist living a comfortable, if lonely, widower’s existence in California. He receives news that his prodigal, and only, son Daniel (Estevez in a cameo), has died while walking the famous 500-mile pilgrimage from southern France through the Spanish Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. Daniel had quit his pursuit of a doctorate degree to travel the world, a dream cut short by the tragic accident.
Tom travels to France to recover his son’s body, but instead finds himself replacing Daniel on the long trek. He’s fueled by anger, loss and confusion as to why he’s even there, but onward he walks. He also meets and collects fellow pilgrims along the way.
First it’s Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), a jolly Dutchman with a love for food, wine and pot. Tom’s odd pairings continue with the addition of the man-hating Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) and finally the talkative Irishman Jack (James Nesbitt). At first the companions keep their distance from Tom and his brooding pace, but long days of marching and short nights of exhaustion ameliorated by drink and conversation bring the pilgrims closer together.
Tom leaves little bits of Daniel’s ashes along the trail, and he eventually learns the search for meaning on the road to Santiago de Compostela is found in what his new friends reveal about themselves and about him. It’s a lovely, languid journey to this and other realizations and it’s borne along by a fantastic soundtrack – the best I’ve heard this year.
This is the seventh time Sheen and Estevez have worked together and it shows. The film also is based on Sheen’s own experiences while making the Camino of Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage with his grandson, and that’s no surprise either.
“The Way” feels personal authentic. Sheen, Estevez and the rest of the talented ensemble actually took much of the journey with a small crew and very little of the comforts that typically accompany a Hollywood film. This unique approach is the film’s greatest strength.
It’s a simple film with simple messages delivered with clarity, and it just might compel you to go home, lace up your favorite pair of hiking boots and hit the trail.
Grade: 3 out of 4
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic -elements, drug use and smoking
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen,
Deborah Kara Unger
Studio: Elixir Films