Way, The: Directed by Estevez

Despite its rough edges and other flaws, “The Way” is an inspiring movie that captures something heartfelt about the search for meaning in a fast-moving, confusing world. Emilio Estevez writes and directs this bold effort, his first picture as a director in five years (since “Bobby,” which was a huge flop).

Martin Sheen, Estevez’s real-life father, stars as Tom, a California ophthalmologist whose comfortable life is interrupted by the news of his son’s death.

Tom’s son David (played by Estevez in a series of short flashbacks and asides) was the victim of a storm in the French Pyrenees while attempting to hike the fabled Camino de Santiago. Despite a less-than-perfect father-son relationship, Tom decides to finish his son’s journey, setting out on the two-month journey carrying David’s backpack and a box which contains his ashes.

The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, is an imprecise route that winds through the French Pyrenees and into Basque Spain, ending in Galicia near the Atlantic coast, about 500 miles away. An ancient pilgrimage route, it leads travelers to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the supposed resting place of the Christian apostle St. James.

People from all walks of life travel the Camino, and many of them cross paths with Tom on his journey. There’s Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), an overweight Dutchman looking to lose weight, Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) a cynical Canadian, and Jack (James Nesbitt), an Irish writer looking for inspiration for his novel. There are also liberal European youths looking for adventure and cheap drugs, old men checking an item off their bucket list, and hard-core religious devotees.

Just where Tom fits in this mix is a mystery to him—and to us. All along the Way, when asked why he’s walking, he struggles to come up with an answer. Instead, he discreetly pours out some of David’s ashes at each stop, imagining the journey his son would have experienced.

Eventually Tom can’t keep dodging questions about his reasons for what is not something anyone embarks on frivolously. With the help of his new friends he presses on, a modern day pilgrim with as much to learn and be saved from as those who walked the Way centuries ago.

In spite of its serious nature, “The Way” is not cerebral or ambiguous. Much of the joy comes from observing the characters, which include a mix of comic, quirky, and relatable traits. Each has something to teach and something to learn, and Estevez directs the traveling ensemble capably.

Sheen gives a strong performance as the center point. He’s hardly their leader, but as an entry into the story, he’s in almost every scene and handles the moments of pathos and grief as artfully as the jokes and triumphs.

Watching Sheen it’s easy to forget the other old-man-on-a-mission movies, such as David Lynch’s “The Straight Story” and Pete Docter’s “Up.” “The Way” has fewer light moments, but also less sentimentality on the surface.

As good as Sheen, Estevez also plays an important role and is shrewd to never indulge by showing his own character too much. Daniel’s moments are brief and often without dialogue, allowing them to exist as Tom’s memories.

“The Way” includes scenes and devices that provide bumps in the road, interrupting the otherwise well-paced journey. The most conspicuous involves an overnight stop in a small town where a Gypsy boy steals Tom’s backpack, with Daniel’s ashes inside.

The resolution is hard to reconcile and takes too long to come. Tom and his companions set out again but we’ve almost forgotten where they’re headed.

It’s also difficult to believe that Tom, a man in his 60s with golf as the extend of his physical exertion, would be able to hike for two months solid without any problems. After an early complaint about his feet hurting, Tom moves with all the energy and bone density of someone half his age. It’s easy to overlook, but not if you think too much about it.

For writer-director Estevez, “The Way” is a more candid movie than “Bobby” with some of the same positives: a strong cast, an inherently interesting premise, and a lesson to be learned.

It’s always clear that Tom is doing it for his son, but while Daniel would have gotten something of immeasurable value out of the experience, for Tom it’s a desperately-needed pilgrimage.

Cast

Daniel—Emilio Estevez

Tom—Martin Sheen

Sarah—Deborah Kara Unger

Jack—James Nesbitt

Joost—Yorick van Wageningen

Caprain Henri—Tchéky Karyo

Credits

Filmax Entertainment, Icon Entertainment International, and Elixir Films

Distributed by Arc Entertainment and Producers Distribution Agency

Written and directed by Emilio Estavez

Producers, David Alexanian, Johannes Brinkmann, Emilio Estevez, Ramon Gerard Estevez, Julio Fernández, Alberto Marini, Lisa Niedenthal, Toni Novella, and Janet Sheen

Original Music, Tyler Bates

Cinematographer, Juan Miguel Azpiroz

Editor, Raúl Dávalos

Casting, J.C. Cantu and Mary Vernieu

Art Director, Victor Molero