Title: The Way
Directed By: Emilio Estevez
Written By: Emilio Estevez, based on stories from Jack Hitt’s “Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route in Spain”-available on Amazon.com for $14.22.
Cast: Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Yorick van Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Antonio Gil
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 9/22/11
Opens: October 7, 2011
During the recent session of the United Nations in New York, the diplomats relaxed in their hotels. Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, stayed at the Mandarin at $16,000 per night, and since the average Rwandan makes $1500 a year, it would take a year’s pay to spend about two hours there. Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian West Bank is a more modest fellow, spending $3,000 for each of his nights in the Big Apple. I’ll bet that neither one had nearly as much fun as the quartet who form the principal characters of “The Way,” written, directed and produced by Emilio Estevez and featuring his dad, Martin Sheen. But this is no vanity project. Instead, it is easily the most spiritual movie of the year but one without the saccharine pretensions of TV’s Hallmark Hall of Fame. “The Way” is said to have received a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival, with journalists guessing that the great reception is enjoyed must be because it meets the needs of regular audiences who look (with microscopes?) for something without cursing, sex, explosions, car chases or angry robots. “The Way” is a road-and-buddy movie that has been compared to “The Wizard of Oz,” that latter book and film dealing with a tin man who needs a heart, a scarecrow a brain, and a lion some courage. (Toto would probably settle for a dish of Ken-L-Ration.) And don’t forget Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as a possible inspiration for the book by Jack Hitt from which the film was adapted.
As its central character, Martin Sheen performs in the role of Tom Avery, a Ventura, California ophthalmologist whose idea of fun is golf with other doctors, a fellow whose loyalty to his patients seems to mean he’d never consider cancelling an appointment even if deathly ill. All that changes when he gets a call from the French police informing him that his son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez), eager to see the world rather than continue his doctoral studies, has died by accident in the Pyrenees Mountains while on a hiking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Obviously devastated by the news, Tom goes wholly out of character, cancelling a month’s appointments to pick up his son’s remains. He is determined to take the young man’s ashes on the route that Daniel would have followed, walking for a month from France to the Church where St. James is said to be interred.
Thinking he’d be alone throughout the journey, and probably preferring to be solo at first, he surprises himself by enjoying the company of three other pilgrims who, like him, are not taking the hike for religious reasons. First he runs into Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), a boisterous and generous Dutch traveler, who is taking the hike to lose weight. He won’t. Canadian Sara (Deborah Kara Unger) joins the group as a woman who is on the walk to give up smoking. She doesn’t. Irishman Jack (James Nesbit), is a travel writer who is blocked and is determined to break out of the standard magazine articles to write a book
about the celebrated journey. He probably will. Not religious himself, Tom simply wants to take his son’s place, as it were, and continue the journey that Daniel could not make. He does.
Though deep character analysis is not even tried, nor should it given the marvel that Estevez turns out, “The Way” works its magic not by a plethora of melodrama or wild celebrations, though there is a terrific scene that has the quartet enjoying a group of Roma people spontaneously abandoning themselves to flamenco at night. As described by the Roma adult (Antonio Gil) that the group meets, the gypsies are a strong community with wedding celebrations that could include 2,000 guests. From the looks of the gathering, these folks, reviled for centuries by populations of countries like Romania and Spain, have a lot more fun that the rich ophthalmologist whose moments of golf with friends seem overly civilized despite the good-natured teasing.
“The Way” is at the very least an exquisite product placement for the Spanish Tourism Board, for the intensity of the Catholics on the pilgrimage (one scene inside the church at Santiago features a group of thurifers swinging the large thurible wildly up and down and sideways, incense streaming from the inside), and for the hope it gives people who are no longer in their youths that their days of full participation on the world scene are hardly over. Yes, dear readers,the journey is the destination. This marvel of a picture must be seen on the big screen as the shots of the Spanish countryside are, what shall we say, Olé!
Unrated. 115 minutes. (c) 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-