Self discovery is one of the subjects that tend to crop up on a regular basis in the movies. They tend to be featured a lot in the lower end, TV movie of the week style film that comes across as being cheesy and not entertaining in the least. It’s not an easy task to take a device like that and use it in a way that engages the audience from the very start. Fortunately The Way manages it with some style.
Tom (Martin Sheen) is a successful optometrist. While on the golf course he takes a call informing him that his son has been killed while on a trip to France. Tom drops everything and travels to St Jean Pied de Port in order to bring his son back to California for internment. It transpires that his son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) had perished in the Pyrenees on the first day on the Camino De Santiago (The way of Saint James), an eight hundred kilometre route from France to Spain that Pilgrims have walked for hundreds of years. Tom is wracked with remorse having been virtually estranged from his son since Tom’s wife passed away some years previously. When he receives Daniels belonging he comes to an abrupt and life changing decision. He arranges for Daniel’s body to be cremated. Then, using the kit Daniel left behind, sets out to undertake the pilgrimage that his son tragically failed to complete. As he travels along the Camino he encounters some of the other pilgrims who for a variety of spiritual and non spiritual reasons are all on The Way. Almost by accident he ends up travelling with three others. Jake (James Nesbitt) a writer trying to get over a creative block, Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) with personal issues and Yoost a larger than life Dutch man intent on getting fit for his brothers wedding. This unlikely group makes its way to their own ultimate goals.
Written and directed by Emilio Estevez this is a gently paced absorbing drama that tackles a number of issues that everyone can relate to on some level. On a basic level it covers the way that people interact with others outside of their own communities. As you grow and mature you gravitate towards a similar type of person for comfort and security. So what happens when you are forcibly thrust out of this comfort zone? This is what Tom encounters. He is the personification of the stranger in a strange land. At first he is lost to a certain extent. He voices his surprise at the Police station in France when he is identifying his son’s body when he sees the Morgue is called the same in English as French. As he becomes a little more familiar with his surroundings and dealing with his grief over his loss you can see him grow into a new, more assured person. His attitude towards his son and himself changes as the undertakes the walk and this in turn has an effect on the people around him.
As you would expect the supporting cast are diverse reflecting the nature of the people who take on a pilgrimage. Each character is drawn in one way initially which reflects their national stereotypes. The Dutch man always looking for drugs and parties, the talkative sharp-witted Irish man and the bitter Canadian woman. As the film develops we see that these are mere fronts put up to protect the individual behind. Only with time and friendship do we see the real people. The characters are all well written and the actors take them a step further and bring to life fully formed, believable people.
Estevez does not show off behind the camera. There is little in the way of flashy camera angles in use. Instead he realises that the story is strong enough to be conveyed in a straightforward way. That isn’t to say it is dull. Full use is made of the locations and there are several shots of the magnificent countryside of Northern Spain. The pace of the film matches the walking pace of the characters. There is no need to rush. What Estevez doesn’t do is linger too long on a particular scene for added sentiment. A nice job of restraint on his part.
Overall an absorbing and touching drama that tells a well-worn story in a different way. Recommended.