Arc Entertainment // 2010 // 121 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // March 18th, 2012
You don't choose a life, you live one.
When exactly did Emilio Estevez's acting career end? Was it just after he did D3: The Mighty Ducks that his agent called to tell him the sad news? Regardless of what happened to an actor who was on the verge of going supernova, Estevez has spent the last 15 years focused primarily on writing and directing. Unfortunately, he's not a great writer or director, though he has shown promise. The Way is probably his most complete effort.
As Tom (Martin Sheen, The West Wing) drops his son (Emilio Estevez, The Breakfast Club) off at the airport to embark on a months-long spiritual pilgrimage, Tom can't help but question his son's lack of motivation and decision to not pursue his Ph.D. The two leave on terms that are far from understanding. Some time later, as Tom is playing a round of golf with his doctor buddies, he receives a call from France to say his son was caught in a storm on the Camino de Santiago and died. Going to collect his son's remains, he discovers the meaning behind the pilgrimage his son was on, and decides to finish the journey with his son's ashes in tow. This journey will test Tom both physically and mentally, while showing him the true nature of humanity in all its forms.
At first glance, The Way seems like a vanity project. Written, directed, and produced by Emilio, the film seems like it's trying too hard to say something substantial about faith, the human condition, and our natural world. Besides its hippie dippy core, the film has its roots firmly in the valley of cheese. But the passion which Estevez has for the material and the quiet yet deep performance by his father elevates this experience beyond what it should be. After years of tepid and boring performances, Martin Sheen shows us he is still a commanding presence on screen. The same man who displayed such ferocity and passion in films like Badlands and Apocalypse Now has refitted his skill set for a man in his twilight years still striving for answers.
The Way is a road movie, though one traveled by two feet and not four wheels. The story is fleshed out through an eclectic mix of characters Tom encounters along the way, each representing some varied sense of humanity; characteristics exemplified in aspects of Tom and ones he may regret for never having experienced. Whether it's the drug-enhanced Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen, The New World) with a penchant for living life in the moment, the Irishman (James Nesbitt, Waking Ned Devine) possessing a playful way with words and a keen eye, or the bitter Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger, Crash) with her hypocritical disdain for life's more technological pleasures and an undercurrent of rage, each brings something unique to the journey.
But for everything The Way does well, Emilio Estevez is no maestro behind the camera. Cinematographer Juan Miguel Azpiroz's frame is too cluttered and condensed for shooting material such as this. El Camino de Santiago needs something like a 2.35:1 aspect ratio to truly soak up those sun drenched French and Spanish vistas, allowing the visuals to become truly cinematic and transcendental. It doesn't help that Estevez approaches everything in a very workman-like manner. There's no inventiveness or pop to the imagery, and some of the dialogue -- especially ideas of faith, perseverance, and pilgrimage -- comes across as forced and condescending. It's as if Estevez wants to scold us for being complacent. And yet his passion somehow overcomes these pitfalls, delivering a film bathed in the warm light of triumph over suffering, highlighting beauty in every corner of the natural world with characters that expose the inherent goodness of this mortal coil.
Presented in letterboxed 1.77:1 widescreen, the standard definition transfer does a nice job displaying the yellows of the Spanish countryside and the greens of the Pyrenees, while lacking the detail we've come to expect from Blu-ray. The Dolby 5.1 mix is quite subdued, so don't expect much of anything in the back channels. But the dialogue is crisp and the twinkly folk-infused soundtrack has a great bounce to it, until music from The Shins and Coldplay kicks in. For bonus features, we're given four featurettes -- "Camino Americana: Taking The Way On The Road," "Pilgrimage: Behind The Camera," Father & Son: Uncovering The Characters," and "Along The Way: The Journey of a Father and Son" -- and a commentary by Estevez, Martin Sheen, and producer David Alexanian.
Emilio Estevez should be proud to have taken on something this niche and personal and making it so digestible and impactful. Though he still needs a bit more experience with writing and directing, The Way is a worthy drama of undeniable warmth.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Rogers; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Arc Entertainment
* 1.77:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site