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The Way (2011) film review

REVIEWS - MOVIES

A straight story that doesn't quite ring true...

Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez in 'The Way' (2011)

The Way sees actor-director Emilio Estevez teaming up with his father, Martin Sheen, for a personal and spiritual journey. The film’s title refers to The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James, a route taken by pilgrims that stretches through the Pyrenees Mountains along the Spanish-French border.

Sheen plays Tom, a doctor whose estranged son Daniel (Estevez) died whilst walking The Camino. Upon arrival in France to collect his son’s remains Tom is gripped by a desire to understand his son better and decides to go on the pilgrimage himself. Armed with his son’s backpack and guidebook Tom navigates the 800km trek scattering his son’s ashes along the way.  While walking he meets an array of characters, and ends up forming a quartet of travellers alongside several other pilgrims. By the end of his journey Tom’s experiences have taught him as much about himself as his son.

The Way is a film with honourable intentions that is ultimately let down by poor direction and stereotypical characters. Both Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen have gone to great lengths to promote The Way, touring the film around the world in an effort to create interest in this low-budget, independent feature. Their commitment is testament to the personal nature of the material. However, a film that consists of an old man walking, albeit along a picturesque route, needs to be well paced, and The Way is a slog at best.

The film’s major problem is the cast. First and foremost, Tom’s decision to walk The Camino does not seem plausible in light of his character’s background. At the start of the film we see him lazily playing golf, refusing to walk and insisting on taking his buggy to pick up the ball. Tom is not a religious man either, further adding to the implausibility of the scenario.

Tom’s actions aside, the rest of the cast offer little more than some mild comic relief. Yorick van Wageningen is particularly bad as Joost, a stereotypical Dutch man who smokes a lot of pot and can’t stop eating. Meanwhile, James Nesbitt is as solid as ever, here playing an eccentric Irish novelist suffering from writer’s block. As witnessed in his previous effort, the political drama Bobby, Estevez is interested in creating a broad range of characters. In The Way, however, the fault lies in the script and the character interaction. The dialogue and the conversations that the story is built upon are just plain dull.  Therefore it is no wonder Sheen looks as though he is on autopilot, it is as if he is sleepwalking rather than trekking.

The one thing you would think this film had going for it is its location. It was filmed along the actual Camino de Santiago, which is a beautiful route. The cinematography, however, fails to capture any of its splendour. There is no sense of the epic nature of this route; instead the rugged landscape and historical architecture are rendered lifeless - puzzling, in regards to the context of the film. As the production notes explain, both Estevez and his father deeply admire this region of the world. However, the lack of a visual and dramatic pulse can be blamed squarely on its director, whose so-called passion for his surroundings does not filter through the lens.

Finally, another glaring misjudgement on the part of the filmmakers is the soundtrack, which is a mix of traditional Spanish music and bland pop songs. Witnessing the pilgrims marching along to the sound of an Alanis Morissette track is enough to make you cringe. Like many aspects of the film, it just doesn’t fit.

The Way is an unfortunate misstep for Estevez in what seemed to be a promising new direction for the former brat pack member. However, he must be commended for attempting something different whereas he could easily have used his contacts to make another star-studded production in the vein of Bobby. It is also great to see an older leading man, as not enough lead roles are offered to older actors in a notoriously ageist industry such as Hollywood. Therefore it is a shame The Way was not handled better. In the end a great idea fuelled by the passion of the filmmakers was let down by poor execution.

2 stars

The Way opens goes on theatrical release in the UK on the 13th of May


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