By Florence Avakian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
NEW YORK — “TheWay,” a new, heart-warming family film, is written and directed by Emilio Estevez, and produced by David Alexanian and his company, Elixir Films. Now showing in most theaters from coast to coast, the film is the story of a life-changing trip bonding a father and his son, and emphasizes the difference between the life we live, and the life we choose. It stars Estevez’ own father, Martin Sheen, whose California life is transformed during a trek.
When Sheen, a well-to-do ophthalmologist, hears that his only son (played by Estevez) has died during a storm in the Pyrenees while hiking along the famed Way of St. James, also known as the Camino de Santiago, he flies to France. To better understand himself and his bohemian son from whom he has been estranged, and to complete his son’s journey, he decides to make the pilgrimage himself, a trek of hundreds of miles from France to Spain.
Using his son’s gear, he starts out picking up a motley group of trekkers, including an overweight Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), a surly chain-smoking Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger), and an Irish author (James Nesbitt) suffering from writer’s block, all of whom hope to find a way out of their personal dilemmas. Along the way, Sheen quietly scatters his son’s ashes.
Though there isn’t much insight on how the grouchy Sheen is changed by the odyssey, the film does afford some hints at healing through arguments as well as friendship with his teammates (all fine actors) and hilarious moments with the local villagers on the journey, especially an innkeeper who alone puts on a side-splitting show acting out a conversation between a man and a woman.
Probably the most impressive parts of the film portray the history, culture and picturesque panorama of the countryside, Sheen’s moving, understated performance and the character development of the other three lead actors. There is also the spiritual element, especially when the four pilgrims finally reach their destination at the Spanish cathedral where St. James is reputed to be buried.