Ophthalmologist Tom receives a call that his son Daniel has died during a storm while walking The Camino de Santiago. Tom travels to France to retrieve Daniel’s body, but whilst he is there he decides to follow Daniel’s journey on the Camino, hoping to complete the walk for his late son…
Written for the screen, directed by and starring Emilio Estevez, The Way clearly is a project close to Estevez’s heart. The film tells a very personal tale, made all the more intimate given its paradoxical setting on such a vast landscape. The plot is fairly straightforward; it is the method of storytelling that makes The Way interesting.
Estevez treats his characters and surroundings with respect, creating a harmonious balance of intimacy and objectivity. He captures the magnificence of the surroundings without neglecting the story. Although the film is concerned with Tom’s grief for the most part, other aspects of the narrative are given appropriate attention. At first, Tom’s companions appear a little stereotypical. However, once relationships in the group develop, his new friends are given more depth and their personalities seem more natural.
Each member of the group has their own mission to fulfil; these are not as obvious as first impressions suggest. The focus of the film is on Tom, but this does not mean his companions are overlooked. Estevez underscores the importance of the Camino for all the main characters. Despite the religious overtones, the film is more about spirituality than doctrine. The journey is cathartic for everyone, particularly Tom.
Performances are good all round in The Way. Martin Sheen is convincing as the grieving but determined father. Filming a story about a grieving father and a deceased son must have been an interesting dynamic for Sheen and Estevez, who plays the son Daniel in the film. Deborah Kara Ungar is effective as Sarah, while James Nesbitt is suitably loquacious as writer Jack.
The film uses music to effectively convey emotions, and the different stages of the journey. The sprawling landscape seems ripe for a score, but the film uses a good mixture of well-known songs and world music instead. The imagery is wonderful, with the film being shot entirely on location.
The Way is a reflective picture that never becomes as morbid as it could. The film successfully exhibits Estevez’s directorial flair.