A man’s search to find meaning in his life along St. James’ Way
They say the biggest tragedy in life is outliving one’s children. For Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) it’s one he has to endure as his son Daniel (Emilio Estevez in a cameo role) dies well before he will. Killed in an ominous weather change during the first day of walking St. James’ Way (El Camino de Santiago), Tom goes out to France to pick up his body. They had a bad relationship, as Daniel was a child yearning for adventure as opposed to his father’s career as an ophthalmologist to Tom’s disappointment, and his latest escapade was to walk from France to Spain to the Cathedral that houses the remains of St. James.
Seizing upon the moment, he opts to take the cremated remains of his son and finish the walk for him. Along the way he runs into three people who end up following the path with him. Yoost (Yorick van Waginingen) is from Holland and is walking to lose some weight. Sara (Deborah Kara Unger) is walking to get away from it all, intending to quit smoking as soon as she finishes the walk. And finally Jack from Ireland (James Nesbitt) joins them, an Irish travel writer with a case of writer’s block writing a book on the Camino and walking the path to get a better perspective on it. As they walk, Tom’s intensely personal journey becomes a collective journey as he discovers what’s been missing out of his life as he finishes up the epic journey his son couldn’t.
It’s an intensely personal film for Estevez, who collaborates with his father after directing his brother Charlie Sheen in Men at Work, and it’s also easily his best work to date. After a prestige picture misfire in Bobby, and a series of lighter fare before then, The Way represents a radical departure for Estevez. There’s a serious tone to his story-telling style as opposed to the lighter touch he’s had before. This is a story about the relationship between fathers and sons; it doesn’t hurt that he works with his actual father for the film.
They have a handful of scenes together early on, to establish his son’s decisions, and unlike many real life family members they have a familiar chemistry together. They don’t get long for the screen, as this is Tom’s journey and Daniel’s death, but the times they do have together we can see how their relationship has deteriorated. Its small touches from Estevez the actor that helps to bring out a brilliant performance from his father.
Martin Sheen is a rare actor in that he always manages to be strong in roles but doesn’t take many with a lot of meat to them in recent years. It’s a large role after a latter half of a career defined by The West Wing and smaller roles. Sheen still has some powerful acting chops as he’s given a role that could’ve gone into melodramatic camp and takes into a deeply personal one. Sheen actually walked the Camino almost a decade ago and thus he has a personal stake in it. He’s walked the path, not just pretended to, and it allows him to bring a depth to it. This is a story about a father privately mourning the death of his son but keeping it in like plenty of men do; by keeping it inside.
His finishing of the walk for his son is his mourning and the celebration of his life. Bonding with the three folks he bonds with on the trail, they’re all damaged like he is and through their journeys together winds up changing Tom. As much as we’d like to see more of the group, it’d take away from Tom’s journey. They help him grieve by making him find why he’s making the walk. At first he just opts to do it because he has Daniel’s gear and knows vaguely about it; he doesn’t want to go back to his life but doesn’t know what to do. They help him figure out his reasons behind it outside of just merely to finish it for his son; the film’s final moment, when they complete the journey, becomes remarkably poignant because of it.
If Martin Sheen doesn’t get nominated for Best Actor at next year’s Academy Awards for The Way it’ll be a shame, but it’ll be a bigger shame is the film itself doesn’t get nominated. It’s one of the year’s best.
Writer/Director: Emilio Estevez Notable Cast: Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Yorick van Wageningen, Emilio Estevez
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.