The Way is written and directed by Emilio Estevez and stars his father, Martin Sheen. I was able to hear both men speak at the screening I attended and their words of sincerity and genuine passion for this project continue to resonate with me even as I write. The Way possesses many core parts that will appeal to audiences in a multitude of different ways. It is part road trip story, part father-son drama, and, most importantly, it is about the singular spiritual journey we all walk alone.
Martin Sheen portrays Tom, an ophthalmologist from California who is estranged from his only son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez). Daniel is a wanderer, his appetite for discovery is never fully satisfied, and therefore he spends most of his life abroad, periodically checking in with Tom, but never leaving a contact number. Tragedy strikes when Daniel is caught in a storm hiking in the Pyrenees mountains in France. Tom makes the trip to collect his son’s remains, and learns of Daniel’s intentions to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. In tribute to his son, Tom decides to stay in France and finish the 800-mile journey his son started.
At first, Tom views the pilgrimage as a point A to point B excursion, something to be finished as soon as possible so he can attempt to move on without his son. Despite his desires for solitude along the way, Tom meets a jovial Dutchman named Joost (played by the very comical Yorick van Wageningen), Sarah, an emotionally weathered and worn Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger), and Jack (James Nesbitt), an Irishman suffering from writer’s block. Little by little, Tom begins to open to his fellow pilgrims, and together they help each other fulfill their personal quests.
Estevez handles his film with the dexterity of a man who is himself on a personal pilgrimage. The sentiment is strong, but never hamfisted. There is a quiet dignity that underlays every action depicted, as well as a profound respect for whatever incarnation a character’s personal journey embodies, religious or otherwise. For a film that doesn’t delve very deep in philosophies, I was impressed with Estevez’s ability to incorporate a variety of characters that spanned the spiritual continuum. At times, The Way may be a little too deliberate in its intentions as a feel-good motivational film, but then again, Estevez makes no qualms or apologies about this fact. And it’s his earnestness and care as a filmmaker that the audience will remember.
Martin Sheen gives a strong performance, arguably one of his best, as Tom. Sheen’s relationship with Estevez is what makes this film what it is; a gift from father to son, son to father. The supporting cast is also a joy to watch, and the performances along with the breathtaking scenery of the historical Camino are enough to give this film a chance. The Way is by no means a groundbreaking film, but what it lacks in progressive filmmaking it more than makes up for in a story that is both contemplating and heartwarming.
The Way opens today in Philly-area theaters.