Everyone has their own, personal reason for choosing to walk the 500 mile Camino de Santiago. This is a trail which begins in France, winds its way through the French Pyrenees, across northern Spain’s Basque region, and ends in Galicia at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Legend says St. James is buried here. Every year, thousands of “pilgrims” make this arduous trek which can take months to accomplish. However, don’t let the word pilgrim fool you; many people undertake this quest for non-religious reasons.
In fact, four such folk are the main characters in The Way. Tom (Martin Sheen) is a native Californian eye doctor who spends as much time on the links as he does at the office. He receives an unexpected phone call from a French policeman informing him his son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) died in southern France in a major storm. Tom flies out to France to collect his body and learns about the pilgrimage Daniel was just starting out on.
Tom and Daniel did not have the best parting one would like to have the last time you are going to see your son. Tom thought Daniel was wasting his life on these silly adventures while Daniel responded with the platitude, “You don’t choose your life, you experience it.” In a moment of remorse and homage, Tom decides to walk the 500 miles for Daniel with his cremated remains spreading his ashes along the way. Quickly, he is joined by fellow pilgrims each with their own reasons for taking a few months out of their lives to backpack across Spain.
There is the Dutchman Joost (Yorick van Wageningen) who is walking the trail to lose weight for his brother’s wedding. Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) is a chain smoking Canadian who vows to drop the habit once she reaches the cathedral and Jack (James Nesbitt) is an Irishman convinced the trail will finally crack his writer’s block. Initially, Tom does not particularly want their company because he is suffering from some severe guilt and remorse about Daniel. This leads to the film’s low point of a drunken rage against pilgrims and his walking mates. Fortunately, once this ridiculous and needless scene is over, the rest of The Way is a very enjoyable movie to watch.
Since the Camino de Santiago means a great deal to many people, especially those in northern Spain, you can really see how writer/director Emilio Estevez took his time to do this right. To add to the authenticity of the movie, The Way was shot with only available light — sunlight during the day and candles and fire at night. Other than the main characters, everyone else on screen is actual pilgrims walking the trail to the cathedral. There is even a scene later on with real Roma (Gypsies).
It is refreshing too to see Emilio pop his head up once again for some real work. I last saw him when he directed 2006’s Bobby and since then it appears he has only directed a couple episodes of Numb3rs. Perhaps he is always waiting for some real inspiration to use as his next project (unlike his brothers), and has he mentioned The Way came about from his father and his son’s experience on the trail. I wonder if the character Jack is a model for Emilio since the first draft of this screenplay took six months to write. Furthermore, it is about time Martin Sheen showed up in a good movie again. Recently, he has had some bit parts in throw away movies such as Love Happens and Imagine That and hasn’t truly had quality work since The Departed.
The Way won’t win any awards; however, it is so positive and perhaps intentionally persuasive that I bet every person in the audience thought about how they could find a few months to take off and hike that distance. I had no idea that such a place as the Camino de Santiago existed before watching the movie, which, I suspect, is a big reason why Emilio Estevez took the time to write and direct this film with such care. He wants the rest of us to know about it as well.