Martin Sheen (The West Wing) leads the cast of The Way as Tom Avery, an aging optometrist who begins the film with a feeling of ever-present resentment and bitterness, and quickly learns that his son has been killed in a freak storm whilst backpacking in France; leading him to immediately fly out to bring the body home.
Tom quickly begins reflecting on the strained relationship he held with his son Daniel (played by Mighty Ducks star, and Sheen’s real-life son, Emilio Estevez); clearly missing him despite the fact they weren’t close, and hadn’t spoken since he lectured Daniel about how traveling would be a waste of his life; leading him to want to learn more about his son, and his traveling activities.
Daniel was killed on his first day walking the famed Camino de Santiago (a lengthy Christian pilgrimage route ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Composteria), and after Tom hears a little about the trail his son set out on (and is presented with his sons backpack), he soon decides against taking the body back to America, has his son cremated, and decides to immediately set out along the trail with his sons ashes, and walk the way with him.
The Way then follows Tom’s journey as he not only begins to grow closer to a son he didn’t really know, and walk the hundreds of kilometers through France and Spain, but meets, and even grows close to, a number of fellow travelers (despite his outwardly miserable and private attitude); who all hail from very different locales and walks of life, but are all looking for some sense of meaning.
And while The Way is a film about Tom’s quest to grow closer to his son, it’s the dynamic between him and his fellow companions; the most noteworthy of which are a chubby pot-smoking Dutchman named Joost (Yorick van Wageningen, The Chronicles of Riddick), an angry Canadian woman named Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger, Silent Hill), and an Irish writer named Jack (James Nesbitt, Cold Feet), who’s suffering from a severe case of writer’s block; which keeps the film not only interesting, but surprisingly engaging.
In fact, The Way is a movie that should be indescribably dull; Sheen describes it best when he says something along the lines of “we’re basically just talking a really long walk”; yet despite it simply being about a walk, it never is; you’ll find it engaging within seconds, moving within minutes, and mesmerizing in its entirety; thanks to both Martin Sheen’s acting, and Emilio Estevez’s superb direction.
It’s hard to deny that it would be difficult to film many of the locales used in the film and not shoot them in a pleasing manner, but it’s not just in the spectacular landscapes where Estevez’s direction shines, but also in the subtle yet plentiful emotional scenes which make up a good portion of the film, and are helped along in no small part thanks to the solid acting of the entire cast (Unger, Nesbitt, and Wageningen are all great in their roles; even if Nesbitt’s Jack is rather annoying), and specifically the brilliant portrayal of Tom by Martin Sheen.
It’s a pleasure to watch Sheen playing Tom (a part which Emilio; who served as not only director, but also writer and producer; wrote specifically for him), simply because of how easy he is to relate to, how effortlessly he pulls off the role, and how consistently believable he, and the entire film, is; as it’s wholly believable that these different characters could find friendship on the Camino, peppered with extras who were really walking the trail at the time, and contains so many real stories it’s nigh on impossible to separate what’s real, from what was just written for the screen.
Yet despite its elegance, sophistication, brilliant acting, solid writing, and stunning direction (which clearly show Emilio can play with the big boys), The Way isn’t a film for everyone; it’s a fairly lengthy movie (clocking in at over two hours) that will seem far too long for some (particularly as it lacks the action, tension, intrigue, special effects, and superpowers most modern filmgoers crave), dull for many, and certainly boring for the kids; but it’s captivating, moving, and just as importantly, real.
It clearly shows that The Way was a real passion project for the Sheen/Estevez family (evolving from a pilgrimage undertaken by its star Martin Sheen, and his grandson Taylor Estevez, and the idea of producing a small documentary film), and although Charlie Sheen’s recent actions will undoubtedly help the movie gain a little notoriety by association, it’s a pity his actions may distract viewers from the believable relationship held by Martin and Emilio onscreen, from the solid story, and Estevez’s strong direction.
Despite the entire premise of the film being ripe for the trappings of a Hallmark special, it’s quite amazing how The Way never really feels like a made-for-TV film, stays interesting throughout, and will prove to be a great watch for people who appreciate a good story, believable characters, and a real-life setting; this isn’t the film the the explosion-seeking action junkie, or the rom-com lover; it’s a film that will appeal to the lovers of Hallmark movies, and heavily resonate with any backpacker (past, present, or future) or person that’s lost someone close to them. The Way is a captivating movie which deserves to be watched, it’s just a shame it won’t been seen by as many people as it deserves.