A GRIEVING patriarch walks in the footsteps on his late son in the fourth directorial feature of actor Emilio Estevez, who once again casts his father Martin Sheen, pictured, in front of the camera.
The Way is a deeply-personal film for the Estevez family, who wanted to pay tribute to their Spanish heritage and the El Camino de Santiago: a 800-kilometre spiritual pilgrimage starting in St Jean Pied de Port, along the Spanish-French border to the Cathedral de Santiago.
En route, pilgrims collect stamps in a passport called the Compostela and use the time in the picturesque countryside and the Pyrenees Mountains to reflect and meditate.
The Way chronicles one lonely and selfish man’s rebirth, but as the 128-minute running time attests, Estevez is in no hurry to reach any conclusions.
When one of the characters derides the Camino as “just a really long walk”, you suspect it’s a warning shot for us to hunker down.
Tom (Sheen) is an American optometrist, whose perfect round of golf with his country club chums is ruined by news that his son Daniel (Estevez) has been killed in the Pyrenees in a storm.
The medic flies to France to collect his son’s ashes and discovers that Daniel perished on the first leg of the Camino.
Haunted by the words of his son – “You don’t choose a life, Dad, you live one” – Tom throws caution to the bitterly wind, grabs his son’s backpack and guidebook and decides to complete the pilgrimage in Daniel’s honour.
Down the path, the medic meets overweight Dutchman Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), who is hoping to use the pilgrimage as a makeshift weight-loss programme.
“Are you going to make it, fat man?” teases Tom.
“Don’t worry about me, old man,” smiles Joost, rising to the challenge.
As the two men continue their walk, they meet emotionally-damaged Canadian woman Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) and creatively-blocked Irish writer, Jack (James Nesbitt).
The Way is a love letter to the idyllic northern Spanish countryside and the people who open their homes to the pilgrims.
Sheen internalises his character’s anguish and we see sadness welling up in Tom’s eyes, underscored with occasional moments of humour.
An episode late in the film with a thieving gypsy boy (Omar Munoz) and his embarrassed father (Antonio Gil) hammers home the key messages of forgiveness and love between parents and their children.
Pacing is pedestrian, just like the actors, aside from Tom jumping into a river to save his backpack from the fast-flowing water.
Van Wageningen is endearing in his underwritten role, but Unger and Nesbitt fail to make any impact, the latter grating on our nerves with his chattering.
Well before the end credits, we’re contemplating a second death on the Camino.