Director: Emilio Estevez
Stars: Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger
Plot: A father travels from America to Europe in order to collect his son’s body, but decides to walk along a pilgrim trail from France to Spain on which he died to learn more about his motives.
If you’ve never heard of the El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) before, then prepare to be inspired. Traditionally, the route starts at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port at the foothills of the Pyrenees in southern France and stretches approximately 800km to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela near the Atlantic coast. Christian pilgrims and atheists alike have walked (and more recently cycled) along this route for over a thousand years to not only pay homage to St. James, but also for a whole range of other reasons. So where better to set a film about a physical and spiritual journey?
Tom Avery (Sheen), a Californian ophthalmologist, receives the news that his son Daniel (Estevez) has been killed whilst trying to walk the El Camino during a storm. He goes to France with the intention of collecting his body and bringing it back to America, but instead decides to get a cremation and take Daniel’s remains with him on the trail. We learn that his son went travelling despite his father’s express disapproval, as Tom had hoped Daniel would continue a promising career instead of giving it all up for his wish to see the world instead.
As Tom sets out on his walk he encounters Joost (Yorick van Wageningen) from Amsterdam, who is setting out in an effort to lose weight. Also joining the two on the long trail is Sarah (Unger), a Canadian who is doing the pilgrimage primarily in an effort to stop smoking but also to get over a messy divorce from an abusive husband. The group is completed by Jack (James Nesbitt), a writer from ‘Ireland’ (saying Northern Ireland would be more accurate, but for some reason it’s too confusing) who has writer’s block which needs, well, unblocking. The four form their own mini-Fellowship, but instead of a Ring it is their collective vices and self-doubt that need destroying by the end of the journey.
The synopsis of The Way does exactly what it says on the tin. There are the token assortment of characters – a jovial Dutchman, a bitter Canadian and a manic (Northern) Irishman to accompany Sheen’s Tom along the journey. There are no major surprises on that score. But at the heart of the film is a touching story about tragedy and loss – Tom’s companions are just a side-show for the central concern that is his acceptance that Daniel’s adventure must be completed with his spirit in tow. The scenery is stunning – no doubt anyone who has not had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful corner of Western Europe will be tempted to dust off their walking shoes and take up the challenge themselves.
On the down side, Tom’s character is not a particularly pleasant travel partner. He is suffering from grief for sure, but also you feel that he could do with being a little more agreeable, especially considering the two hours plus running time. Strangely, he somehow manages to complete the walk without a single blister on his feet or any physical pain whatsoever, bearing in mind he is 70-odd. There is also a contrived storyline involving a gypsy boy, who steals Tom’s backpack but is made to return it by his father. This seems like it has been shoved in as an afterthought and is a hint that the spectre of Hollywood clichés are also following Tom as well as Daniel’s ghost along the Camino.
The Way is an enjoyable, heartfelt film that is touching and at times amusing. The only twists and turns are in the road and not in the plot – if you don’t mind this, you’ll enjoy the walk - and the view.