Tom (Martin Sheen), an American eye doctor, comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France, to collect the remains of his adult son Daniel (Emilio Estevez), killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking The Camino de Santiago, (aka The Way of Saint James). Driven by his sadness and a desire to better understand his son, Tom himself embarks on the historical 800 km pilgrimage, armed with his son's backpack and a guidebook, from the French Pyrenees, to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of Spain. Along the way he meets some other pilgrims: an overweight Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen) a chain-smoking Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) and an Irish writer, Jack (James Nesbitt) with writer's block. Each has some reason to make the journey.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Yet another exploration of father-son relationships, The Way is unlike most others in that the story is more about the father's belated efforts to get closer to his son's memory after his accidental death - to see him more clearly in retrospect, perhaps. Usually it's a story of how to improve their actual in-life relationship. To push a metaphor, Tom (Martin Sheen) is an eye doctor. The film has an almost gentle tone as we follow Tom on his own pilgrimage, to complete what his son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) could not, after being caught in a storm and dying on his first day along the track to Camino De Santiago.
We see Daniel only briefly on the way to the airport, where he exchanges a couple of telling lines with his father - and then again briefly as visions. But his presence is forever felt, certainly by Tom - and yes, by us.
The film studies Tom in his grief, his pilgrimage an attempt to perhaps connect with his son's memory. It's clearly not religious. On his journey, Tom meets three fellow pilgrims:
an overweight Dutchman, Joost (Yorick van Wageningen, remarkable) a chain-smoking Canadian, Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) and an Irish writer, Jack (James Nesbitt) with writer's block. Jack may well be Jack Hitt, the author of the book from which much of the material is taken.
Although these characters add some texture, their contribution to the film's meaning is less substantive than textural. They are each a snapshot of people who have some weak-spot they wish to exorcise on this 800 km pilgrimage, but they add little to the Tom's story. The result is a mix of travelogue and faint spirituality with sentiment always close by. These are the elements that make the film haunting.
Son Estevez gets a lovely performance out of father Sheen, and from the others, as Tom's original quest takes on a deeper significance and affects him more than he had anticipated. Sarah quips at one point as she watches Tom and Joost approach, "here come Tom Quixote and Sancho ..." But while his journey is based on a romantic notion, Tom's quest is not all idealism nor unattainable.
It's not quite a road movie nor a real redemption story, nor a buddy movie; it's a diary where the journey is more important than the getting to the destination. Tom frees himself mentally from his strait-jacket life, or at least we think he does; yet to be proven of course. Undemanding and often interesting in a cultural sense, The Way is a laid back, melancholy work.
Review by Louise Keller:
A grieving father from California, an angry nicotine addict from Canada, an overweight Dutchman and an Irishman with writer's block come to terms with their demons in this amiable road movie that zigzags through angst, laughter and revelations. Emilio Estevez has made a gentle and immensely likeable film that flows naturally, whose heart comes from the solid, grounding performance by his father Martin Sheen. Adapted from Jack Hitt's book 'Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim's Route', the fact that Estevez plays the small but critical role of the son in this story about fathers and sons, adds special poignancy. It's a bit like experiencing a life-changing adventure with old and new friends - all through gorgeous French and Spanish countryside.
You don't choose a life; you live one, are the words that ring in the ears of a father who learns of his son's accidental death during the latter's pilgrimage from France to Spain along the Camino de Santiago. The Way refers to the 800 km ancient pilgrimage at the end of which the remains of Saint James are- reportedly buried and on which thousands walk each year - be it for historic, religious or health reasons. Tom (Sheen) is an eye doctor and while the eyes may be the window to the soul, it is not until he traces his son Daniel's (Estevez) final steps as he ventures on the pilgrimage, that he sees what he was not previously able to see.
There's a lonely electric guitar, James Taylor's Country Road, Nick Drake's Pink Moon, Coldplay's Lost and Alanis Morissette's Thank You to keep the rhythms flowing as Tom decides to make the journey that his son never finished, electing to scatter his ashes along the way. He is not looking to meet other pilgrims; it is simply one of fate's accidents that puts him together with a Dutchman, an Irishman and a Canadian. Joost (Yorick van Wageningen) is a bullish extravert from Amsterdam who wants to lose some weight; Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) calls him Boomer (Baby Boomer) and she says she wants to give up smoking; Jack (James Nesbitt) is the hyperactive Irish writer who tries to find meaning in every curve of the road. Together they are a sundry lot who clash much of the time as they wander through picturesque villages, cross ancient bridges over gushing streams and meet colourful locals as they try to deal with their own issues.
There's a brush with the law, an encounter with gypsies, pink sunsets and glorious campfires, all of which make the journey every bit as crucial as the destination. The resolutions are beautifully realised, leaving us with a warm and comfortable glow from the experiences we have shared.
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WAY, THE (PG)
CAST: Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningen, James Nesbitt, Tcheky Kario, Spencer Garrett, Angela Molina
PRODUCER: Emilio Estevez, David Alexanian, Julio Fernandez,
DIRECTOR: Emilio Estevez
SCRIPT: Emilio Estevez (novel by Jack Hitt)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Juanmi Azpiroz
EDITOR: Raul Davalos, Richard Chew
MUSIC: Tyler Bates
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 26, 2012