Martin Sheen finds “The Way”
by Justin Senkbile
While youngest son Charlie has spent the last few years “winning”, Martin Sheen and his eldest, Emilio Estevez, have been busy making a new film called “The Way”. Written and directed by Mr. Estevez, it follows a man's journey along the Camino de Santiago, a centuries-old route across northern Spain to the spot where, according to tradition, Saint James the apostle's remains are buried.
Sheen plays this man, named Tom, a California eye doctor whose wayward son Daniel (Estevez) has just died during a storm while on the Camino. Tom travels to France to recover the remains and, upon learning what his son was attempting, resolves to walk the hundreds of kilometers and finish the pilgrimage in his honor.
Along the way, and despite his closed-off, self-reliant nature, Tom racks up an interesting international coterie. There's Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), a proud Dutchman; Jack (James Nesbitt) and lively but troubled Irish writer; and Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), the angry, chain-smoking Canadian. It's this gang of four that guides us along on this rather intimate trek.
A passion project for Sheen and son, made with very little money and with the close collaboration of the featured communities, the movie deserves quite a bit of sympathy right off the bat. And thankfully, as a document of the Camino, “The Way”, couldn't be better. Estevez creates this world so well because he keeps the details in the forefront. The people, the towns, the conditions and the food (even the regional names for dishes, in one scene) are all given such essential roles that the characters we're watching, even Sheen, take on a secondary importance.
Which works out okay, because it's the character stuff that could use some work. The actors chug along well enough, bringing what life they can to the dialogue and emoting that often rings very false. Add to that the lightest of light laughs, and you occasionally find yourself just hanging on, waiting for the lines to end and for the real interesting stuff to come back on screen. The surroundings and situations hold things together enough to make the group's bond convincing and even a little touching by the end, but the actual interactions between them feel terribly strained.
It may not be a great movie, but “The Way” does offer something unusual: what feels like a true, textured look at a real sliver of living history.
“The Way” is playing at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 13th and R streets, through December 22nd