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The Way

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating

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The Way

Martin Sheen in 'The Way'

Emilio Estevez has his heart in the right place with The Way. The film is far from a vanity project for the writer/director's iconic father, Martin Sheen. In fact, Sheen is the best part of the movie. His portrayal of coddled and curmudgeonly American ophthalmologist Tom, a grieving fish out of water on the walking pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago -- also known as The Way of Saint James -- is inspired.
Estevez's script, however, clogged with exposition and too many characters, transforms a lonely act of determination into a too-playful buddy movie. Too often, Estevez reaches for an easy laugh or a stale dramatic moment in place of staying with Tom and his burden of grief.

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).

Too much emphasis is put on the growing friendships among the travelers. As a result, the focus is taken away from Tom's journey. Instead of a meditation or quasi-religious experience, the film is filled bickering and flashes of anger eventually solved through exposition—lots of lots of exposition. The only reminder of Tom's recent loss is an occasional stop to scatter ashes or the corny appearance of an approving Daniel, in spirit, of course.

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

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