En español | A story about a father and son, The Way succeeds in large part because it stars Martin Sheen, the real-life father of the film’s writer and director, Emilio Estevez. It is also the tale of a literal journey that leads to a spiritual, personal transformation, and that is territory that Sheen — survivor of both addiction and heart disease, parent of a wayward son, devout Catholic — knows well. Sheen makes this film work, though he couldn’t have done it without his son.
The Way begins with Tom (Sheen), a widowed ophthalmologist, filling his days with work and golf. He argues with his only son, Daniel (Estevez), who has decided, at almost 40, that he’s not going to complete his doctoral dissertation but is instead going to set out to see the world. “You don’t choose a life,” the son tells his dad, “you live one.”
Tom is on the golf course when he receives a call on his cell phone from a police officer in the border town of St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France informing him that Daniel was killed in a storm in the Pyrenees along the Camino de Santiago. Each year, thousands of “pilgrims” from around the world trek 500 miles from France across northern Spain to the town of Santiago de Compostela, where the tomb of St. James is housed in the main cathedral. As fellow travelers, they journey together, but motivated by infinitely diverse goals, they each complete an interior passage alone.
Tom travels to St. Jean Pied de Port to collect his son’s remains and is drawn to complete the odyssey that Daniel had just begun. Along the way to Santiago, he meets a trio of pilgrims — Sarah, an angry divorcee from Canada (Deborah Kara Unger); Jack, a frustrated writer from Ireland (James Nesbitt); and Joost, a hilarious gastronome from Holland (Yorick van Wageningen) — and comes to know himself, through them.
The Way is by no means a perfect film. At times, the dialog is forced, and the characters — especially Jack, a caricature of Don Quixote if there ever was one — are overplayed. Some of the subplots are heavy-handed. For example, Sarah makes this journey in part to assuage the guilt she feels over having had an abortion; Martin Sheen, in real life, is opposed to abortion. Sheen is also known to hand out rosaries, as does a priest Tom encounters on the road to Santiago.
But following this motley crew of pilgrims is a funny, heartwarming armchair-travel adventure. The scenery of the Galician countryside will take your breath away. And the message underlying The Way — that it’s never too late to change — will inspire you. It sent me from the theater to my computer to explore the possibilities of one day walking the Camino de Santiago on my own.