Emilio Estevez wrote, directed and took a supporting role in The Way, an easygoing road picture that plays right into his father Martin Sheen’s wheelhouse.
The road in this case is the Camino de Santiago, the famed Catholic pilgrim’s path from France into Spain, crossing the Pyrenees and ending at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Estevez has plopped his dad on this epic hike in a story of a father taking one last shot at getting to know his son and testing his own physical condition and his faith.
Sheen plays Tom, a successful, widowed eye doctor who hasn’t seen much of his grad-student-turned-mystic-traveler son, Daniel (Estevez). Daniel’s last call said something about a hike he was going to take in Europe. But the next call about Daniel isn’t from him. He has died on El Camino de Santiago, “the way (road) of St. James.” Tom has the unhappy task of going to France to collect his child’s body.
That’s where the flashbacks start, as Tom sees visions of Daniel and remembers their conversations. “Don’t judge this,” the son pleads about his traveling. “Don’t judge me.”
In France, Tom starts to meet the interesting people connected with this road. The Catholic French cop, played by the marvelous Tcheky Karyo, explains what the journey means to the faithful and to those in physical or spiritual crisis. A grieving Tom decides on a whim to take Daniel’s backpack and make the journey for him, scattering his ashes at various gorgeous spots he passes.
He meets an overweight Dutch party animal (Yorick van Wageningen), an Irish blowhard suffering from writer’s block (James Nesbitt) and a chain-smoking Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) who can’t open her mouth without being rude. Tom is stuck walking with them for much of his trip, determined to keep the reasons for his hike to himself, determined to stay on task.
Truth be told, this movie’s ambitions are small and its characters archetypes, for the most part, like modern versions of the people in Canterbury Tales or the “If I only had a heart/brain/nerve” crew from The Wizard of Oz, which Estevez has called an inspiration for the film.
But The Way makes for a warm, engaging blend of charm and travelogue. It’s a plucky film that covers a lot of ground and uncovers this wonderful, ancient ritual that people of many faiths and from all walks of life take on.
Estevez and Sheen pull off a rare accomplishment. They make us consider the reasons we might want to walk The Way, and in this warm and pretty movie, actually make us want to do it.
Cast: Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Tcheky Karyo, Yorick van Wageningen, Emilio Estevez.
Writer-director: Emilio Estevez.
Producers: David Alexanian, Emilio Estevez, Julio Fernandez.
A Producers Distribution Agency release. Running time: 115 minutes. Some thematic elements, drug use, smoking. Opens Friday Oct. 14 in Miami-Dade only: Aventura, Sunset.