Movies: The Way **
(12A, GENERAL RELEASE)
Written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his dad Martin Sheen, The Way is a family affair that grew out of Sheen's fascination with the Camino de Santiago. Sheen's father came from the province of Galicia, where the Camino ends, and it was a family tour along the route that provided the inspiration for Mr Estevez's film.
This kind of organic film-making is laudable and all too rare, but there's such a thing as being too close to a story or an idea, and that may have been the case here. Because although The Way has plenty of good ideas and is not without moments of real charm, it ultimately fails to convince as a drama and eventually descends into mawkish sentiment.
None of this is the fault of Martin Sheen, however, who delivers a commendably grounded portrayal of a curmudgeonly Californian in the throes of grief.
Prosperous doctor Tom Avery is on the golf course with his buddies when he receives the kind of phone call that every parent dreads. His only son, Daniel (whom Estevez plays in brief flashbacks) has died in mysterious circumstances in the Pyrenees.
When Tom travels to southwestern France to identify his son's body, he discovers that Daniel had intended walking to Santiago de Compostela along the Camino but had got lost in bad weather and perished.
Haunted by the fact that in recent times he and his son had fallen out over Daniel's desire to travel, Tom decides to walk the pilgrim route himself in an effort to come to terms with his son's death.
Along the way he meets a jolly Dutchman called Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), a verbose Irish writer (James Nesbitt) and an American woman called Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) who has been unlucky in love. All are walking the pilgrimage trail for different reasons, and over the course of a series of Quixotic adventures they form a lasting bond.
Estevez does not ignore the religious significance of the Camino, and the centuries-long tradition of supplicant pilgrimage is explored. His film also boasts a fine performance from Sheen, who gives us a real sense of a man floundering and in pain.
But his search for solace is not enough to nourish a two-hour-plus film, and Estevez's supporting characters are unconvincing euro clichés. Which is a pity, because with a little more rigour in the writing this might have been a very interesting film.
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