The quartet featured in "The Way"
By Andrew W. Griffin
Red Dirt Report, editor
Posted: August 15, 2012
DVD REVIEW: The Way directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen (Elixir Films) 2011)
As I was preparing to write my review of the DVD release of the American drama The Way, I was surprised to see that the event promoted on my “This Day in History” desk calendar was the release – 33 years ago – of the Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now, starring Martin Sheen. Curious, I thought.
I mention this because there is a scene in The Way where a 70-year-old Martin Sheen, playing the role of ophthalmologist Thomas Avery moves ever so subtly in the way he did in that famous scene in Apocalypse Now where a drunken Capt. Willard moves about his wrecked hotel room and does these spasmodic martial arts-like moves. It’s a memorable moment in film history, so when Sheen’s character in The Way does it, one wonders if director-son Emilio Estevez (who wrote, directed and produced The Way) was ever-so-gently paying homage to his father in what is arguably his most famous role.
Anyway, this is neat (Apocalypse Now is in my top 5 best films of all time list) and reflects well on director Estevez who has come a long way since Wisdom, his clunker of a filmmaking debut.
But on with the story …
We are introduced to Thomas Avery who takes his son Daniel (Estevez) to the airport to hike the Catholic pilgrimage route along El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) in southern France and northern Spain which concludes at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Later, Thomas learns that his son has died in storm while hiking a stretch through the French Pyrenees. He goes there to retrieve his son’s remains and in turn decides to make a spiritual pilgrimage of his own along “The Way,” placing remains of his son’s ashes in spots along the route, in homage to Daniel.
Sheen’s character is clearly an introvert whose expression rarely changes as he hikes westward, amongst backpackers from all over the world. My wife, who did a section of “The Way,” said it’s a truly unique experience to do the pilgrimage and each village seems to have a welcoming and festive atmosphere. That is captured in the film, including a scene with gypsies.
Along the way he bumps into a fellow pilgrim from Amsterdam named Joost (the terrific Dutch actor Yorick van Wageningen). He’s a friendly fat guy looking to lose weight along the way. But, like Thomas, he has deeper reasons for being there.
Thomas seems to tolerate Joost but doesn’t offer up much information about why he is there. But when Joost sees Thomas sprinkling ashes along the trail, Thomas explains that he is there out of respect for his son – but he doesn’t actually offer up other details.
Two others join the duo – a Canadian named Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) who looks a little like Joni Mitchell. She is a damaged woman who claims she is there to quit a cigarette habit but is really there to escape an abusive past.
And “Jack from Ireland” (James Nesbitt) is a self-assured writer and admirer of Yeats and Joyce who is really trying to get past a case of “writer’s block.”
It’s an odd group and they all have their issues and they all try to figure out how they can even be considered pilgrims in this modern age.
The scenery (it was filmed in early autumn of 2009) is outstanding and the story and dialogue are compelling in their believability and humanity. Sheen’s Thomas is clearly trying to keep his grief hidden as he puts up with pot-and-hash smoking Joost, angry Sarah and over-the-top Jack.
But, in a Wizard of Oz sort of way, the quartet is bound together by a shared experience, even if they have their own demons to battle and crosses to bear.
There are some amusing scenes (the one where they opt not to take a room at a crazy man’s “hotel” is one) and the soundtrack is dynamite, featuring everyone from James Taylor to The Shins.
And while there is unsurprisingly a distinct Catholic tinge to the film (after all, Martin Sheen took on the name “Sheen” in an homage to Archbishop Fulton Sheen) this is more a spiritual film than a specifically religious film.
Which is good, at least to this viewer. The Way is a deeply moving film and touches on universal themes and I think we can all appreciate that.
Copyright 2012 Red Dirt Report