By Mike Smith
This past weekend my wife and I attended an engagement party for our son. While there I did the “dad” thing and contemplated the last twenty seven years. There is no stronger bond then the one between father and son. And no more is that statement proven then in the new film, “The Way.”
Dr. Tom Avery (Sheen) is a small town optometrist who seems content with his life. He has his practice. He has his golf game. And, occasionally, he has contact with his son, Daniel (played in flashbacks by director Estevez). It’s been some time since the two were in the same room. Daniel took off for France, much to the chagrin of his father, who scolded him about his life choices. “You don’t choose a life,” Daniel informs him, “you live one.” One day Tom receives the phone call all parents dread. Daniel has died. Tom makes the trip to France to retrieve his body. Little does he know that he is about to embark on the most important trip of his life.
Smartly written and directed with a master filmmaker’s eye, “The Way” is one of those films you’ll want to see again and again. The film takes place along a trail known as El Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage that begins in France and ends 800 kilometers later in Spain, where the remains of the apostle St. James are rumored to be buried. Tom learns that Daniel had begun to make the journey, passing away before he could reach the first check point. Faced with Daniel’s hiking gear and blank passport (there are many towns on the route and pilgrims receive colorful stamps on their passport at each one), Tom decides to honor his son’s memory by completing the journey himself. Though he wants to be alone with his grief, he soon meets up with fellow travelers from around the world. Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), a Dutchman, is making the journey to lose weight. Canadian Sarah (Unger) wants to quit smoking. The American priest (played by the great character actor Matt Clark) hoping to beat cancer. And the writer from Ireland (Nesbitt), whose novel is due soon, though he can’t come up with page one. Each has their own reasons for their pilgrimage, and the absolution they hope to find when the journey ends. As Tom makes his way, scattering bits of Daniel’s ashes as he goes, he begins to understand why Daniel was making the trip. And in doing so he finds a part of himself he thought had been lost.
Is there a more underrated actor working today then Martin Sheen? For more than five decades he has often been the best thing in many a film or television show. In “The Way” he gives a strong, mannered performance, touching every level of emotion. He is supported by an ensemble of talented actors, each breathing genuine life into their characters. Director Estevez, following up the outstanding “Bobby,” continues to grow as a filmmaker. Be it the expansive landscape or the intimate conversations, he keeps the film sharply paced, allowing us to take the journey with Tom and his companions. The film has been beautifully photographed by Juan Miguel Azpiroz, with many scenes looking like postcards that have come to life. The musical score, by popular horror film composer Tyler Bates, is first rate, keeping perfect time with the action on screen.