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The Way
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The Way – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

One day at work, middle-aged dentist Tom (Martin Sheen) gets the call that all parents dread; his son Daniel (Emilio Estevez), has been killed while travelling in Europe.
He never approved of his talented son taking time out for the trip and deeply as he feels the loss, he almost wishes he could say “I told you so.”
Tom heads to the village in southern France where Daniel’s body has been taken to identify it and bring it home. He discovers that Daniel died soon after beginning the 500 mile walk to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain – traditionally a Catholic pilgrimage but also, for many, an escape for people who feel the need to find themselves.
After losing his son and having no idea what the point of life is anymore, Tom decides to do the walk himself. An ageing man with no training, he collects his son’s back-pack, boots and walking staff and sets off on an impromptu journey to make sense of his new life.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this film is an analysis of the people behind it. The director Emilio Estevez plays the son of his real-life father Martin Sheen, whose other son Charlie has only recently been lost, if not to his father, certainly to the world of entertainment. There’s a sense in which as we watch Martin Sheen’s character trekking along El Camino – or The Way, contemplating the death of his fictitious son, we might actually be watching the actor himself contemplating how his other son has destroyed himself through drink, drugs and celebrity arrogance.
The Way works on many levels but falls short on others.
It’s a great travelogue, enticing us to want to explore the Pyrenees for ourselves. It effectively gets across the isolation you can find in the mountains, but also shows how a bunch of random strangers, all looking to improve their lives, can meet, walk together and help each other towards their goals.
Tom isn’t feeling sociable in the circumstances and a quiet man, he’s not interested in discussing his problems with anyone, but he’s content enough to walk with them – enjoy their company isn’t perhaps the right word, but he’s not having to endure it either.
One of the film’s failings, that takes away from its credibility is the random nature of his fellow ramblers, each with their own issues they need to overcome; the chubby Dutchman Joost (Yorick van Wageningen) who just wants to lose a bit of weight so his wife will love him again, the feisty Canadian Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) who finds it hard to trust me and the Irish author Jack (James Nesbitt), who’s trying to overcome his writer’s block.
It’s all a bit convenient – the nationalities – the issues – the coming together.
Another problem is that an 500 mile walk is just a little too long to sustain an interesting film. It’s a shame Daniel wasn’t doing the 200 miles of the Coast-to-Coast walk across the north of England instead – there’d have been just a little less walking.
This is very much a film about self-discovery and camaraderie and how much you enjoy it will depend more on how much you can identify with people in need of such things. Martin Sheen’s performance is powerful – for what he does – a bit of walking and a lot of frowning. The others are a little overpowering – to the point of being annoying at times – but ultimately, they just about hold your interest long enough to see them to the end.
The Way won’t be as life-enhancing for people watching it as it would be for those actually taking part.

Opens nationwide 13th May 2011

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