Tom's son Daniel (Estevez) drops out of graduate school to travel the world. On his first night walking El Camino de Santiago, he gets caught in a freak storm and dies. Initially, Tom travels to France only to recover his sons cremated remains, but then reluctantly sets off on the pilgrimage, first to follow in his son's footsteps and then to complete the journey for himself.
Along the route, Tom attracts a ragtag band of companions, each wanting something different from the journey: the drug-carrying Dutchman who must lose weight or lose his wife (Yorick van Wageningen), the Irish writer with writer's block (James Nesbitt), and a chain-smoking Canadian who's trying to kick the habit (Deborah Kara Unger).
The scenery of the Pyrenees, which should in itself be almost a character, is underused. As a director, Estevez has little use for panorama or even much color. The locals encountered on the walk rate no higher than cultural stereotypes at the ready to show the travelers a little local color. What little detail is provided is fascinating. When Tom negotiates room and board—and sometimes a lack of it—the film is at its finest. Where it falls down is when it glosses over these details. There's definitely not enough of the walk itself. There should be blisters and sore muscles and pit stops, but there aren't.
Ironically, the core of Tom's journey is at its beginning, helped along by a Catholic French police officer, played by Tcheky Karyo, who guides Tom's decision to take up his son's backpack in the first place. Unfortunately, this is over much too soon, and what's left is the shallow take-off of the character stereotypes from The Wizard of Oz. In The Way, instead of redemption, there are only aphorisms. But at least Sheen can deliver them