How far is it to the next Four Seasons?

Theatrical Release Date: 10/07/2011 (limited)
Director: Emilio Estevez
Cast: Martin Sheen, Yorick van Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez, Tchéky Karyo
Rated: PG-13 for some thematic elements, drug use and smoking.
Runtime: 2 hours, 3 minutes


Which way to the West Wing?

Although it may not comes as much of a surprise to those who read my reviews, I have been known to be wrong from time to time. And when it comes to the adage about judging a book by its cover, that’s exactly where a mistake was made on my part in waiting so long to see “The Way”.

Knowing it was written, produced and directed by Emilio Estevez and starred his pops, Martin Sheen, I dismissed it as yet another in a long line of well-meaning but underwhelming father-son films one can find just about anywhere. For doing so, I hope the movie Gods accept my mea culpa.

The story is relatively simple. Sheen plays Tom, a California ophthalmologist who disapproves of his son Daniel’s decision to quite his doctorate program and travel the world (in a shocking casting move, Estevez plays Daniel). However, after an accident claims his son’s life while undertaking the “El camino de Santiago” pilgrimage from France to Spain, Tom takes it upon himself to complete the journey and, as cliché as it sounds, discovers so much more along “The Way”.

Almost like Dorothy’s trip to Oz, Tom picks up some companions on his journey: a Dutchman looking to shed some pounds (Yorick van Wageningen), an Irish writer hoping to regain the ability to write (James Nesbitt), and a Canadian ostensibly looking to quit smoking (Deborah Kara Unger). Together, they experience a number of adventures that transform them from strangers into family.

Ugh, that is so touchy-feely. I almost feel the need for a bath just writing up such positive notions. And yet, I was transfixed by the film. It created the sort of canvas which allowed for both enjoyment of the proceedings and personal reflection. Estevez doesn’t get bogged down in trying to put some directorial stamp on events, he simply follows along with the characters and highlights some of the beautiful countryside and architecture that the group passes through.

The script is tight, doling out information as the companions grow comfortable enough with one another to share themselves in a meaningful fashion. And while the acting is solid all-around, it’s no surprise that watching Sheen play a father mourning the loss of a child played by his own real-life son creates the sort of sincere performance that might have audience members dabbing they eyes with a tissue or two. However, don’t think this is simply a somber affair. Although Tom is on a quest to reconcile what’s happened, the overall message is one of rebirth and affirmation.

One of the most touching and heartfelt films of the year, “The Way” manages to capture a sense of humanity and goodness that often seems to get lost amongst the hustle and bustle of everyday life. A 4 out of 5, it sounds corny as hell but if you’re looking for something to recharge your faith (whatever that means to you), then check out this movie. It’s almost criminally under-promoted and hopefully this review helps balance the score … even if only a little bit.

4 out of 5