THE WAY Review

Movies are no longer about the basic story they are telling but instead marveled at because of how they convey them. What tools, characters, and instincts writers use to manipulate an age old story you have seen many times into something new and fresh. It has been taught that all stories can derive from a certain number of plots. I've heard many different numbers that can fill in that blank, but the fact of the matter is is that it doesn't matter. Because no matter how much the plot matters your audience will not be interested if you do not relate it to them in an appealing manner. It is about the journey and so in making a film about an actual journey it is likely hard to figure out how to make it fresh and interesting. This is certainly a challenge director Emilio Estevez was aware of when he began work on "The Way", a film that chronicles a fathers journey of traveling the "El camino de Santiago" from France to Spain. The story is rooted in more than just a man making a trek though, there is obviously the reasons why he is doing this and while in terms of storytelling this is of course used as a means to make us feel for the character, to relate to him, it is also the reason we want him to take a journey and ultimately why we don't mind tagging along with him. Estevez does a fine job of navigating our protagonists story while providing enough entertaining company and genuine incidents along the way to recommend this heartfelt, if not sometimes slow moving diary of a weary traveler.

Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) gets more than he bargained for
when retrieving his son's remains in France.
Estevez enlists his real-life father Martin Sheen in the lead role of Tom Avery, a California optometrist who upon learning about the death of his son Daniel (played by Estevez in flashbacks) travels to France to collect his sons remains. Daniel was a free spirit type who dropped out of Berkley to see the world and in doing so he began the journey of the "El camino de Santiago" himself but was killed in an accident on his first day out. When Tom reaches France and in a all-around great performance by Sheen we see the reality of his sons death begin to sink in, Tom realizes he has to finish the journey for his son. It feels the only proper thing to do and the most respectable form of honoring his son. What ensues on his journey is not something just for his son who he never seemed to fully understand, but of course a kind of self-discovery that allows Tom to see and appreciate the time he's spent on earth in a different light. This is like I said, a story so ingrained in our cultural DNA but is fortunately not the most important thing about the film. No, despite "The Way" being standard fare, it is elevated by the performances and the bonds that Avery makes during his journey that allow him to come to terms with who he has become.

Tom and his new found friends each have their own
reasons for traveling the "El camino de Santiago". 
This may all sound a tad melodramatic and "Eat Pray Love"-ish but unlike that film our protagonists quest for something more is not rooted in their own selfishness. In fact, Tom has no desire to leave his safe and secure world of being a doctor with golf games in the afternoon. He enjoys his life, he is content, but his son has always been a kind of challenge in his life, the unconventional part of it, yearning to break out of the California bubble. Tom at first doesn't even intend to finish the walk for Daniel. This pilgrimage is the first thing in a long while to give Tom something to achieve, but the problem this enlists for the film is it lets the audience know where the film will end. So the meat of what is interesting will happen en route and while Tom collects a diverse group of traveling buddies that while having their own personal crisis on their hands, they pale in comparison to the reason Tom has chosen to take this trip. The two main problems I had with the film were the too often occurring montages set to what felt like out of place popular songs and the slight episodic feel the film began to pick up.

Tom, Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), and
Daniel (Emilio Estevez) reach the end of their trip together. 
Tom's new found friends and their personal stories as well as their loyalty and determination to make Tom feel a part of something rather than a loner is the saving grace of the long pilgrimage and the level of acting elevates these characters to people we want to see resolve their issues. As the lone woman on the trek, Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) says she is trying to give up smoking by the end of the trip while seeming eternally pessimistic. It is clear there is more under the hood here than smoking though and her quest for a kind of self assurance compliments Tom's the best. There is the instinctively kind Joost (Yorick van Wageningen) who is walking the path to try and lose weight in order to once again feel attractive to his wife. Finally, we have the wonderful James Nesbitt who shows up about halfway through the film as Jack, an author with writer's block who finds in Tom a story worthy of his novel. The interaction between each of them and the bonds they form is clearly the strongest aspect of the film. And while at times the movie could do with better pacing and even shave a few minutes here and there; ultimately Estevez documents the natural progression of these relationships well and produces a heartfelt if not slightly modest effort.