Susan Granger's review of "The Way"
Grief and the reconciliation of a father/son relationship are the crux of Emilio Estevez's spiritual journey along the historical Christian route known as "El Camino de Santiago."
Dr. Thomas Avery (Martin Sheen) is an ophthalmologist in California. He's a widower whose only son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez), has decided to abandon his dissertation as a doctoral candidate in order to travel around the world, studying people in real life and not from behind a desk.
As he explains to his father: "You don't choose a life. You live one."
But soon afterwards, Tom receives a phone call from a policeman in small French village in the Pyrenees. Caught in a blizzard, Daniel died while hiking "El Camino de Santiago" or "The Way of Saint James," a 780-killometer trip (nearly 500 miles) from the French side of the border, across the mountains to the tomb of St. James at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. After having Daniel's remains cremated, Tom impulsively decides to finish his son's trip, placing the ashes in his backpack and joining other `peregrinos' who are making the picturesque pilgrimage for various personal reasons.
Often visualizing Daniel as he encounters various experiences, Tom is trekking to honor his son's intentions, scattering his remains along the way. A surly loner at first, Tom is reluctantly befriended first by a gluttonous, gregarious Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), who is trying to lose some girth before his brother's wedding, and then by a chain-smoking, emotionally ravaged Canadian woman (Deborah Karen Unger). Completing the foursome is a hard-drinking Irish writer (James Nesbitt), who decides to chronicle Tom's story.
Sensitive without being sentimental, writer/director Estevez ("Bobby") allows the simple, if contrived enlightenment story to unfold slowly, as the characters reveal themselves more through their actions than their words. The ensemble acting is superb, as Estevez's real-life father, Martin Sheen, delivers a subtly nuanced, compelling performance.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Way" is an uplifting 8, as the mystic destination is worth the arduous trip.