There’s something to the ‘enlightening journey’ storyline: a lost figure packs up his life and heads out on a trek whereon getting lost (literally) is the only way to get found (existentially). Sure it’s an archetypal story—in a lot of films conforming to this theme there’s an overlying sense of familiarity. We know why these characters are here. We know what’s going to happen to them. And we know what the movie is trying to tell us. The Way is no exception. But just because it’s nothing new that doesn’t mean the movie is a failure.
Emilio Estevez writes and directs the small quiet sometimes funny and occasionally emotionally penetrating movie starring his father Martin Sheen as a man who has just lost his son (played by Estevez in flashbacks) to a tragic accident. Sheen’s character an ophthalmologist named Thomas Avery flies to Europe to identify the body of his son Daniel who died while braving a backpacking pilgrimage known as El Camino de Santiago. In some kind of muddled attempt to vindicate his son’s free-spirited ideology the otherwise pragmatic Dr. Avery decides to take on the pilgrimage himself scattering Daniel’s ashes throughout the path.
The sour doctor gathers an unlikely band of misfit toys while trekking: a happy-go-lucky Dutchman aiming to lose weight (Yorick van Wageningen) an embittered Canadian woman seeking religious affirmation after enduring her own personal trauma (Deborah Kara Unger) and an eccentric artist struggling with severe writer’s block (James Nesbitt). Initially set against making friends of any kind Tom grows to appreciate each of his outcast cohorts and the merit of their own personal struggles.
The story reminds me a bit of “The Bremen Town Musicians” fairy tale—a foursome of discarded journeyers join up with one another out of more than anything else a lack of anyplace else to go. And in this union do they all find themselves.
At times Estevez’s script and movie seem a little heavy-handed. The movie bounces from moments of impressive subtlety to those of epitaphic speeches and quotations. But the mood carried throughout (albeit inconsistently) is one of humanity. Although as expressed above the film has little in the realm of originality its sentiment is believable and humane. Most of all its characters are engaging—especially the lovable Joost played by van Wageningen—which is what makes the journey one worthy of our time.
The DVD’s special features will entice behind-the-scenes junkies. Each of the special features is a brief but relatively interesting look at a different aspect of the crafting of Estevez’s story. Most of them feature Estevez and father Sheen side by side discussing the characters the setting and the plotline. The audio commentary accompanying the film features Estevez Sheen and producer David Alexanian involved in an informative and interesting and often funny conversation about various aspects of the character development and the production.