The Way

Movie Information

The Story: When his son dies walking the Camino de Santiago, a father decides to finish the spiritual journey for him. The Lowdown: A thoroughly nice, well-meaning, but completely predictable little movie that will appeal to audiences in tune with its themes.
Genre: Drama
Director: Emilio Estevez (Bobby)
Starring: Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Tchéky Karyo, Yorick van Wageningen
Rated: PG-13

I should note straight off that I saw Emilio Estevez’s The Way—which sounds more like a keen-on-Jesus sort of thing than the film actually is—at a press screening where the assembled group of five tended to like the movie more than I did. (Well, I think my screening partner liked it less than I did.) This isn’t to say that I disliked The Way. In fact, I think it would be hard to actually dislike it. It’s a nice little movie, and very obviously well intentioned. Unfortunately, it’s also predictable and so corny that it sometimes feels like a joke in search of a punchline. In fact, the set-up can be reduced to “An American, an Irishman, a Dutchman and a Canadian woman walk into a spiritual bar.” But I also think it’s a movie that a great many people will like a lot more than I did, and I have no desire to disuade them from seeing it for themselves.

Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) is a curmudgeonly opthamologist, whose long-standing battle with his son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) comes to an end when the pushing-50 wayward son dies in a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago—the “way” to what is supposed to be the burial place of St. James in Spain. At first, Tom intends only to go to Europe and reclaim the body, but it’s not long before he decides to have Daniel cremated and finish the trek for him, leaving his son’s ashes along the way.

Now, since an aging eye doctor doling out ashes every so often as he trudges along for several hundred miles has limited dramatic value, it follows that Tom will encounter other folks who are on the pilgrimage for reasons of their own. First, he bumps into the Scarecrow … no, not really, but the film has a definite Wizard of Oz vibe to it. Actually, he meets a chubby, chatty, dope-smoking Dutchman named Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), who is ostensibly making the trek to lose weight. Since this is a very “movie” kind of story, this means that Joost is going to pretty much eat his way across Spain. In the same vein, it means that Tom’s next encounter, the Canadian Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger, Silent Hill), will be a chain-smoker who’s trying to quit and, of course, smokes the entire time. (The woman must be packing a tobacconist shop in her knapsack.) Of course, it follows as night the day that he would just as soon lose them both—or so he thinks anyway—but they both pale into insignificant irritants with the arrival of Jack the Irishman (James Nesbitt). Jack is a writer suffering from both writer’s block and a deadline to write about walking—you got it—the Camino de Santiago.

So there you have the group. The film works on the basis of an encounter or an event followed by a montage in a rinse-and-repeat manner. And, truth to tell, it works in its own cornball way.

For me, the biggest problem with the film—apart from its insistence on sticking to a formulaic approach to absolutely everything—is Estevez’s insistence on having himself as dead Daniel pop up with alarming frequency watching his father’s efforts. Not only is it altogether too much like some Family Circle cartoon, but Estevez has aged into looking astonishingly like k.d. lang, giving the whole thing a slightly disconcerting—and certainly unintended—effect.

Still, all this is pretty much just a personal reaction—and of the kind that makes me think that this is strictly a case of The Way being a movie that simply isn’t for me. I suspect you have some idea whether or not it might be for you based entirely on the premise. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, drug use and smoking.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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