Screenplay Written/Directed by: Emilio Estevez
Original Novel Written by Jack Hitt
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Yorick van Wageningen, James Nesbitt and Deborah Kara Unger
Tom (Martin Sheen) heads to France to recover the body of his estranged son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) who died attempting the “El camino de Santiago,” pilgrimage – an 800 kilometre pilgrimage between the French Pyrenees and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. In the process of deciding how to transport Daniel’s remains Tom decides to take the pilgrimage himself.
Emilio Estevez is an enigma: immortalised in The Breakfast Club as a teen and star of Young Guns, Men at Work, and The Mighty Ducks (a.k.a Champions) respectively. Then his career essentially moves into ‘T.V movie obscurity’ until gaining critical notoriety directing wonderful historical ensemble Bobby (2006) which snapshots the lives of 22 people Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles immediately preceding the assassination of Robert Kennedy.
Estevez immerses you into the journey of The Way. This is the essential father/son story and it’s so fitting that real life father/son pairing can infuse their real lives into the characters. The idea of a parent outliving their child is deeply and fundamentally tragic and that’s exponentially worse if they had a strained relationship. As the pilgrim’s path passes beneath Tom’s feet he’s wrestling with his obligation to the legacy of his deceased son. The focus of the story spends the necessary time getting into Tom’s head as he’s experiencing this late existential crisis. Tom is a focal point of sadness and longing on the profoundly sublime natural backdrop of the ‘Camino’. Estevez patiently paces The Way; you’re given a lot of time to occupy Tom’s headspace before the trio of supporting characters even get any screen time
Martin Sheen is still a performance powerhouse and his son’s directorial guidance crafts his performance in The Way to a more restrained acting mode akin to performances that defined his early career such as Badlands and Apocalypse Now. Sheen’s style manipulates you (the audience) because Tom is a blank slate. It’s not easy to read him and unconsciously as you’re trying to understand his motivations, you find yourself projecting your own desires and hopes into his journey. Daniel’s presence in Tom’s visions pronounce the moments that Tom’s the most ‘in’ the physical and metaphysical journey of The Way. Sheen lets you peak into his despair in those moments and at times I was moved to tears.
The phenomenal support comes from Joost (Yorick van Wageningen – the very nasty Nils Bjurman from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo ) a Dutch tourist on the walk to lose weight, that happens to sample all of the fine culinary delicacies of the region. Van Wageningen is a sweet doughy loveable and funny relief to the fairly emotionally heavy proceedings. Along to quit her bad habit is Canadian chain-smoking cynic Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger – Hurricane, Payback). Unger is almost unrecognizable after plastic surgery. Her soft beauty and nuanced/subtle acting style is muted in her limited facial movements. Estevez does manage to extract an accomplished biting and raw performance but I found myself a little distracted with the sacrifice she’d made to maintain ‘youthful’ looks. Finally James Nesbitt plays Jack the Irish travel book author suffering from writer’s block as he attempts his first novel. Nesbitt begins as a caricature that once presented with the profundity of Tom’s journey, begins to need to document the ‘truth’ of the journey. Nebitt’s Jack like the audience has to unpack the motivations of Tom and he’s fittingly moved by the journey.
Estevez also appears playing Tom’s son in the film and has an uncanny resemblance to his father. He’s got a much sunnier and hopeful disposition than his father and in the brief windows that he makes an appearance – delivers a resonant performance.
Estevez’s cinematic pilgrimage stays with you long after the viewing. The Way is a profound journey of self discovery. You’re not presented with all the answers; you’re along for your ride, observing Tom (Sheen) like his companions. It’s inspiring, cathartic, poetic, hopeful, and makes you want to throw on a backpack, start walking and find yourself.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
The Way was released in Australia on the 26th of April 2012, and in the U.S.A on the 7th of October 2011.