Sunday, May 20, 2012

New Release Review: The Way (Emilio Estevez, 2011)

The Way has been out for a couple of weeks now but I am really glad I got the chance to see it. It is a moving, life-affirming and inspiring story that sheds light on and respects the centuries-old tradition of the Camino de Santiago, touches on how important family and friends are in helping us through the challenges that pop up on life’s journey, and how death can be understood and accepted purely through ‘living’. It is collaboration between father and son, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Estevez, known for his roles in The Breakfast Club and The Mighty Ducks, adapts Jack Hirt’s novel ‘Of the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrm’s Route in Spain’ with his father in mind and admirably directs.


Sheen (The West Wing) stars as Thomas Avery, an American ophthalmologist and widower whose only son, Daniel (Estevez), has become emotionally distant. Desiring not to pursue a career-oriented profession and live in the ‘California bubble’ like his father, he wishes to explore the world as an anthropologist. Tom receives the tragic news that Daniel has been killed during a storm in the Pyrenees, as he was walking the 800km Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), a Catholic pilgrimage route through northwestern Spain, which culminates at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.

Tom travels to France, where his son’s body is awaiting his identification, with the desire to bring him back to the United States. But, having learnt about the pilgrimage and ignoring his lack of hiking experience, he decides to walk the spiritual trail to deal with his grief and honour his son. Having cremated him, he caries his ashes in a box in his backpack and sprinkles his ashes at places along the Camino. While walking he meets interesting people from all around the work, and despite his desired solitude he reluctantly allows three in particular to become his close companions.

Joost (Yorik van Wageningen, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) is a jovial and portly Dutchman from Amsterdam who concedes he is walking the Camino to lose weight. He claims it is so he can fit into his old suit for his brother’s wedding, but there seems to be another reason, too. Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger, The Game) is a bitter Canadian fleeing from an abusive marriage, with the goal to quit smoking by the end of the pilgrimage. Jack (James Nesbitt, Cold Feet) is an Irish travel writer attempting to write a novel about the Camino. When he meets the trio, he is struggling from writers block, but soon finds inspiration through Tom’s extraordinary tale.



Estevez's screenplay is let down a little by circumstances that shift between tragic and heartwarming a little too quickly, but I felt it was impressive in relaying subtle semblance of how Tom begins to understand his son better. Their different life philosophies are briefly touched on, but I did get the sense that Tom begins to appreciate Daniel's alternative outlook on life. As he begins to embrace the exercise, the freedom of the open road and leaving his path in the hands of the goodwill of others, he finds himself closer than ever to his son. Tom imagines that Daniel is there accompanying hm – giving him a wink and a wave. He mourns his son, but knows he would have been proud of him, possibly for the first time. 

Every time we see a shot of Daniel there is a sinking feeling in your heart. Here is Tom’s son, long-estranged and now passed, accompanying his father in spirit, on this very personal pilgrimage. Tom is adamant that he is journeying for his son, but it becomes clear, as he begins to see the world with fresh eyes – interacting with people who care about him, and who he begins to care about as well – that it is also a journey for himself. The film can appeal to multiple demographics. It celebrates life and living and Tom's emotional journey, and the stories of his companions aswell, can be a source of inspiration for a person of any age. This pleasant journey is also well accompanied by tracks from folk artists The Shins and Nick Drake, amongst others.

Martin Sheen has been around a long time and he still remains a top professional when on screen. I would follow him anywhere. Remember Lisbeth's sexually abusive guardian in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? Well, you wouldn't believe it is the same actor playing Joost here. He is undeniably likeable, and has such natural energy; always ready for a sneaky use of his drug stash. We haven't seen Deborah Kara Unger for a while, but it is great to have her back, while James Nesbitt was completely convincing as an egotistical writer who is brought down a peg or two.

I believe, with the exception of the main actors, a lot of the people that Tom meets along the way are real pilgrims, and this adds to the naturalism of the journey. The breathtaking scenery is beautifully conveyed and ensures the pilgrimmage has an atmosphere - a space for solitarity, but briming with warmth when a group travels together. It could be argued the film is a little long, but I enjoyed the patient aproach. Tom is not in a rush, taking the time to honour his son every step of the way, and Estevez has crafted a film that observes him in the same way. Wth so many beautiful locations, and interesting chapters to the journey, why waste them?

Even though there have been several decent feel-good dramas in cinemas this year - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - I feel like The Way trumps them. It was profoundly uplifting and tear-inducing on several occasions, and may just inspire the travel-by-backpack bug.

My Rating: ★★★★ (B)

8 comments:

  1. I wasn't sure about seeing this as I really, really, really hated Estevez's last directorial feature in Bobby. Yet, I'm intrigued by the premise as I am Catholic, though not a practicing one.

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    1. I haven't seen BOBBY so I can't comment on his work there. I have heard pretty good things about it, though. I'd say give it a go. Considering the shoot was brief, was on location, and utilised real pilgrims and such, I think it is pretty solid. Some of the dialogue is a bit iffy, but it is easy to forgive.

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  2. It's not too cheesy/emotional? I thought it looked interesting, but was worried I would spent much of the film rolling my eyes..

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    1. I'd watch it again some day. I think you should give it a go too. You might find your eyes aren't rolling, but full of tears :-)

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  3. Hadn't been overly keen on seeing this but might have to add it to my list now. Great review!

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    1. It has gone under the radar, I think. Though in a very limited release here, it has made some money. Word of mouth might keep it going for a few more weeks.

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  4. Loved this movie..so well done...congrats Emilio

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    1. Thanks for reading. So glad you enjoyed it. Emilio did his dad proud. Not like Martin Sheen's other son.

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