The Way is a deeply personal project for director Emilio Estevez, who, along with his father Martin Sheen, explore their family roots as well as their religious faith in this inspiring and thoughtful film.
It tells the story of Tom, an LA doctor who travels to the south of France, near the border with Spain, to collect the body of his estranged son Daniel, upon discovering that he died attempting the 800 km long catholic pilgrimage across northern spain known as El Camino de Santiago, the Way of Santiago. The pragmatic Tom feels driven to finish his son’s journey, hoping along the way to reconnect with his son in a way he was unable to do while he was alive. Throughout the journey he meets several characters, whose different motivations for making the journey become clearer as he gets to know them.
From an emotional standpoint, this is a sincere and moving story, which maturely tackles the subject of loss and grief. However, at times some of its narrative elements let the film down, by playing too complacently into clichés inherent to so many journeys of self discovery. Spain is portrayed as being populated almost exclusively with stereotypes, to whom the Camino de Santiago takes a predictably larger than life significance. And while I don’t doubt that there are indeed many people to whom the Camino means an awful lot, we are never presented to a character who entirely breaks away from one-dimensionality. There’s the restaurant owner whose childhood dream was to be a bullfighter, there’s the gypsy patriarch who wants to lead an honest life in Spain but gets unfairly cast aside by society, or the eccentric hotel owner whose quirky behaviour would definitely earn him a glowing recommendation in the Lonely Planet guide. All these characters offer possibilities for exploring different sides of the Spanish people, chances which are unfortunately overlooked.
Despite that, The Way is beautifully shot, using locations in the real Camino de Santiago and taking advantage of the spectacular scenery of the region. The soundtrack complements the visuals nicely, save for a few odd missteps (there is something rather strange about hearing Alanis Morissette’s Thank U to India played over scenery of northern Spain).
In the end, all the little niggles that I might have had while watching this film soon vanished with memory, as it is a powerful tale of redemption and emotional catharsis, and I would recommend it especially to more mature audiences, who will fiend it easier to relate to the experiences and emotions portrayed in Martin Sheen’s powerful performance.