The Good: Decent character study, Decent acting, Good direction, Nice scenery
The Bad: Light on plot
The Basics: When his son dies in France, Tom takes up the journey he was on in The Way.
It is, admittedly, difficult to make a film about regret, especially trying to make a new film that focuses on that emotion as a theme. Making a film that is engaging and worth watching on the subject of regret or breaking addictions is even more difficult. And yet, Emilio Estevez manages to do just that with the film he wrote (for the screen), produced, and directed, The Way. I learned of the movie back in 2010 when it was released, but I did not get around to watching it until now.
As a fan of The West Wing (reviewed here!), Martin Sheen has a pretty exceptional cache with me for what I will watch provided he simply shows up. The Way is a film that brings together Martin Sheen, his son Emilio Estevez, with a special appearance by Emilio’s sister, Renee, and my jury is still out on how good the acting in The Way actually is. After all, Emilio Estevez plays a character who is the son of Martin Sheen’s character, so Sheen’s portrayal of grief in scenes where Tom identifies Daniel’s body are hardly the by-product of amazing acting. But, as a character-driven journey drama, The Way is a smashing success, even if its art house circuit release never made it a commercial success. The Way is not the type of film that is intended for a mass blockbuster appeal, though its message is a timeless, secularly-executed emotional journey that more people would do well to pay attention to.
The optometrist, Tom, is out golfing with his friends when he gets a phone call. The call is from France and it is then that Tom learns that his son, Daniel, has died there. Regretfully recalling how he did not accompany Daniel on his son’s journey, Tom goes to France. There, he identifies Daniel’s body and decides to take up his son’s journey. Taking up the 800 kilometer trek known as the El Camino De Santiago, Tom tries to do honor to his son and work through his feelings of loss and regret.
Along the way, Tom meets a Dutch traveler, Joost, who is taking the hike to try to lose weight for his brother’s wedding and Sarah, a Canadian who wants to quit smoking. They also encounter a priest, an Irish writer wrestling with writer’s block, and any number of locals who have an effect on Tom. While his journey starts as a solitary quest, he soon finds himself accompanied by the others, making the long trip through weather and emotional turmoil.
The Way is a predictable emotional journey that provides Tom with peace over the loss of his son. It is hard to blame Estevez for that; the hike can only really end with Tom getting emotional catharsis, learning he was right about his lifestyle or dying along the way. The journey narrative is a somewhat limited one, but Estevez presents it well. In fact, The Way looks like it might take a problematic detour with the introduction of the manic writer, Jack, but the script and performances hold together through the addition of the Irishman. Estevez uses it for a chance to redicate The Way to the internal journey of Tom. He wants no part in Jack’s book and at that point in the film, the movie begins to wander toward “who might Tom run into next,” and returns its focus to Tom’s sense of isolation and his internal emotional conflict.
Beyond that, though, The Way is hard to discuss and evaluate; it is what it is. Comedic interludes like the one with El Ramon keep the film from becoming too heavy or overbearing, but for the most part, The Way is a quiet, emotional journey that sets out with a simple premise and executes that well. By the end, the viewer cares about Tom, and (to a lesser extent) his comrades, and The Way is more substantial than just a travelogue for those considering El Camino De Santiago.
For other works with Deborah Kara Unger, be sure to check out my reviews of:
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© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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