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The Way: Sentimental Tale about a Father-Son Relationship
The Way makes a film out of a pilgrimage, albeit not the religious kind. The pilgrimage in question happens to be a trek between France and Spain called El Camino De Santiago. People come from all over the world, each with their own personal reason, to tackle the pilgrimage. The film focuses on people battling their demons through the extended solitude afforded by the walk and through connecting with fellow pilgrims.
The film centres on Tom (Sheen), an elderly eye doctor who’d just lost his son to the pilgrimage and is now in France to retrieve the body. He decides to finish the pilgrimage in honour of his son who died on his first day of the trail. As he dwells on his grief and his tepid relationship with his son, he meets three other pilgrims with whom he ends up bonding; Joost (Van Wageningen), a kind Dutchman looking to lose weight, Sarah (Unger), a Canadian coming to terms with an abortion necessitated by an abusive husband and Jack (Nesbitt), an Irish writer with a crippling case of writer’s block.
The description makes it sound kind of sappy and it is, but it’s also sweet, genuine and quite touching. Tonally, the film skirts a very fine line between cheesy and touching, but none of the characters are overemotional. In fact, some of them - Tom in particular - are as stoic as they come, and this really does help the film from going off on the deep end. There’s also a lot of hostility and frostiness between the characters that only breaks down towards the end when they duke it out over what it takes to be a true pilgrim and whether privileged people can ever make the ranks.
Martin Sheen seems rather out of place in the film and in a way, it’s to the film’s benefit. His character is a suburban doctor forced to walk in his adventurer son’s boots for a change and his actions are a testament to his longing to connect with, and understand, his son. He does a fairly good job of making a very frosty, introverted character somewhat sympathetic. The rest of the characters don’t really get much of their own arcs as the story tends to focus on Tom, but they make a good impression with what they have. Yorick Van Wageningen in particular is great as the kind of person who gets trod on because of his unfailing amicability and who’s only recourse is to keep concealing his hurt inside him.
The film does occasionally stumble - scoring a scene to a Coldplay song comes to mind - and gets embarrassingly flaky dialogue-wise, but for the most part it’s a sweet little film that doesn’t get as depressing as its subject matter might imply.
She wakes up from her coma to a husband who she doesn’t remember and parents who are overjoyed that she’s forgotten about their dispute. While Paige’s parents try to bring her back to the way of life that she’d rebelled against, Leo tries to help her remember why she’d left all that behind in the first place. Fighting for a wife who doesn’t remember him and is a completely different person than the one he knew, Leo tries to get her to fall in love with him again.
The film rarely gets unbearably cheesy, setting it apart from your run of the mill Sparks adaptation. It gets mushy, emotional and sappy, but it’s more likely to make you smile than roll your eyes. Leo’s pain and heartbreak combined with Paige’s family’s delight at having their daughter back, gives the film a level of grit that keeps it from becoming overly cloying. However, the secret of the film’s success is the leads, who have great chemistry and manage to pass off some of the cheesiness as bearable.
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The film’s director Emilio Estevez is Martin Sheen’s real life son and plays the small part of Tom’s dead son Daniel.