Review: The Way

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The Pitch: You’ll never walk alone. (No matter how much you’d like to.)

The Review: 2011 has been a heck of a year for one member of the Estevez family. Carlos has lost his job and embarked on a tour in an attempt to find himself. You might know him better as Charlie Sheen, of course, but while he’s currently the most famous member of that particular family, father Ramon (or Michael Sheen if you prefer) and brother Emilio (who’s a full time Estevez, of course) have collaborated for the third time under Emilio’s direction, in a film that’s come a very long way from his early collaboration with his younger brother, Men At Work. Unlike his brother he seems to be mellowing with age and The Way is his most sedate work to date, in which he plays the disenchanted son of his father’s ophthalmologist who gives up his education and sets out to see the world.

Tragically, one day into a pilgrimage down the Camino de Santiago son Daniel suffers and accident and is killed. Devastated by the loss and the fact that they didn’t part on the best of terms, father Tom travels to the Pyrenees to collect Daniel’s body and finds himself drawn in a struggle to understand Daniel’s quest. After talking through with the local police chief (Tcheky Karyo), Tom resolves to take his son’s ashes and complete the pilgrimage himself. With his grief still raw, he’s not keen to be sociable but he hasn’t accounted for the camaraderie and companionship that go hand in hand with walking the Camino, and his encounters with a friendly, doped up Dutchman Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), bristly Canadian Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) and insensitive Irishman Jack (James Nesbitt) shape not only his own journey, but helps in turn to shape each of theirs.

The idea for the film came about originally after another Estevez, Emilio’s son Taylor, and Martin toured the Camino (the journey to the presumed final resting place of St. James) while Martin was on a break from his West Wing duties. Martin originally suggested a low budget documentary but Emilio had larger ambitions, and what we’ve actually ended up with feels like a slight hybrid of the two. Emilio uses his camera well and captures enough of the scenery to make it easy to see why people would take this trek, but there’s always a little of a travelogue feel, almost as if the next monastery or hostel has a crew of a TV travel show waiting to get their latest thoughts when they cross the threshold. The upside of that approach is that everything feels very natural and unforced – that does include the pacing, and the film is just the wrong side of two hours, but no one ever said a pilgrimage would be short.

Of the other pilgrims, Joost feels a little caricaturish but adds much needed humour and jollity early on without jarring the mood. In a lesser film Sarah would have ended up as a shoehorned love interest, especially when Tom is a widower, but The Way has more respect for its characters than that. Jack is James Nesbitt just being James Nesbitt, not much of a stretch and Jack might be the least sympathetic of the characters, but it’s nice to have four people who feel real and aren’t coloured in with black and white but all have shades of grey. What they get out of the pilgrimage changes and becomes clearer as they edge closer to their destination, but along the journey there’s enough here for most people to enjoy the passage of their company as well.

Why see it at the cinema: It might feel more like a TV travelogue at certain points, but you’re a hardened soul if this doesn’t make you want to head out to the Camino tomorrow morning. The cinema screen is the next best place to see that gorgeous scenery if you don’t feel like the spirituality or the blisters.

The Score: 7/10

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