The Way is the story of a son's wonderful gift to his father. And the film itself is Emilio Estevez's gift to his father Martin Sheen, a soulful journey created to fulfil Sheen's long-held dream of walking the historic Way Of St. James. It's been trod by Catholics, seekers and trekkers for over a thousand years. Besides its spiritual and scenic aspects it passes through Galicia, birthplace of Sheen's father, Francisco, to whom the film is dedicated.
Estevez took inspiration from Jack Hitt's collection of stories, Off The Road, and contrived the perfect, personalised excuse for father and son to make the journey together. And what good travelling companions they prove. Sheen's Tom is a widower and affluent Californian opthamologist who is on the golf course when he gets the call that his son has died in a freak storm while hiking in southern France. Tom is bewildered as well as bereft. The two had parted ways unpleasantly, Tom insistent on choosing a conventional life and getting on with it while Daniel opted to wander the world as a free spirit, arguing, "You don't choose a life, you live it."
On a rare impulse, Tom decides to honour Daniel's philosophy by completing The Way Of St. James. The physical demands of walking 800km and the unwanted company of fellow travellers are initially things Tom endures in his impatience to reach journey's end. But along the way, nudged by visions of Daniel savouring a small incident, a gorgeous landscape, a moment, Tom finds himself looking inwards and letting himself experience the journey itself.
En route he attracts a band of inescapable companions, each with a tale to tell, including an exuberant, wining and dining, dope-smoking Dutchman (delightful Yorick van Wageningen), a bitter Canadian (affecting Deborah Kara Unger) and a talkative Irish author (James Nesbitt) with writer's block. Camaraderie, revelations and misadventures come with the blisters. Bedecked with an eclectic score, humour and tears, it's a mood-piece as much as it is about characters. And although it is sedately paced (it is a long walk, after all), Sheen's subtle performance - surly, uptight, cautiously poignant - builds in emotional impact, prompting one's own reflections on the journey of life.
Gentle, likable and profoundly touching, it makes you want to dig out the hiking boots and embark on the same journey.