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The Way (2011)

December 13, 2011

VERDICT:
6/10 Accidental Pilgrims

Not without its problems, but it’s hard to get upset over such an inherently “good” movie.

The Way is about an aging father who finds out that his estranged son has died while hiking the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail from the South of France through Spain. He flies over to identify the body and pick up the remains, but instead of heading back on the return flight home, he straps on his son’s hiking equipment and sets out on the trail where his son left off. As he tries to come to terms with his grief, he meets up with a motley crew of hikers along the way who end up becoming his traveling companions. Despite his outspoken desire to walk the trail alone, the fellow pilgrims stick by his side as they all start coming to terms with their own hangups and vices.

Now, what makes this movie particularly interesting for yours truly is that I’ve actually been hiking the Compostela pilgrimage trail in one-week stretches for the past few years. As for my progress, I’m almost at the Spanish border and I totally would have reached it by now if it wasn’t for my bum leg two years ago that had me walking like a pirate for most of the trip. Anywho, I don’t know how many people out there have heard of the Compostela pilgrimage trail and I don’t know how the Emilio caught wind of it either, but it’s a trip of a lifetime and a potentially great setting for a character-driven movie.

As to what would compel someone to walk across two countries with 30 lbs. of dirty clothes on their backs, everyone’s got their reasons. My good buddy Fred and I are doing it because it’s there, my parents have a far more personal connection grounded in an undying love for a French town along the way, and every other pilgrim we’ve met on the trail has something else to bring to the table. The same goes for Martin Sheen’s character, Tom. He’s there in the hopes of gaining a understanding of or a connection to the son he hardly knew, and his unlikely friends are there to either lose weight, quit smoking, or overcome a mean case of writer’s block. The nice thing about writer/director Emilio Estevez’s approach is that it very much reflects what it’s like and what it means to walk The Camino. Ask anyone who’s done it and they’ll tell you that half the fun of walking the trail is doing just that, but the other half is who you meet along the way.

And as far as the first half is concerned, the scenery here is gorgeous. It’s the French and Spanish countrysides and it’s even better than the postcards. But what’s odd to me is how so much time is spent in Spain and so little is spent in France. No matter where you start out from on the trail, getting to Spain isn’t exactly a stone’s throw, yet somehow they make it there in record time and take their sweet-ass time reaching the coast. Not that it really matters in relation to the story, but having spent so much time in France and having those memories of the trail to go by, I’m just confused as to why it got so blatantly skipped over. France is awesome, man. What’s not love about gorging on wine and cheese for three meals a day? Regardless, the visual appeal to the Camino will not go unnoticed.

But as much as I appreciate Estevez’s intentions and ambitions in making this movie and how he presents the trail as a character in itself, his script unfortunately needs a lot of work. With the exception of Tom’s gradual progression from reluctant curmudgeon to surrogate father figure, the other three pilgrims don’t really go anywhere. They all open up at some point about what’s really going on beneath the surface, but there isn’t a whole lot of closure to be had by the end of their journeys. On top of that, a good deal of the road blocks along the way end up feeling predictable, forced, and easily avoidable attempts at striking an emotional chord, and that’s just no good. Nor is the soundtrack that makes me think Emilio was a big ol’ fan of Garden State.

Although I wonder whether I’m taking these complaints too seriously since I really don’t think I’m the target audience that Emilio had in mind. As every last attempt at humor fell on deaf ears to my good buddy Fred and I while every forty-something in the theater chuckled away, it was pretty clear that my parents’ generation was a lot more receptive to this than I was. It’s a very safe movie that’s easy on the ears, eyes, and soul, and that’s not a bad thing by any means, it just didn’t leave the kind of impression on me that I think it did for others.

And the cast is fine, though their characters are another story. Yorick van Wageningen is endearing as the guy trying to lose weight thanks to his Dutch outlook on life that boils down to “Feelin’ blue? Smoke a joint,” but he’s one of those people who’s good in small doses; Deborah Kara Unger is decent as the gal trying to kick the habit; and James Nesbitt’s character, the one with writer’s block, is flat-out insufferable when we first shows up on the scene and starts ranting in verse like the world is his stage. He does get better, but people who treat the world as their stage, the ones who just don’t have an OFF button, are some of the most aggravating people this world has to offer. But Martin Sheen’s the man as usual as Tom, even if there’s a serious lack of Emilio here. I don’t think I’ll ever have a complaint about Martin Sheen.

As you can tell, this movie has its shortcomings, but The Way is nevertheless home to a very big heart, one that makes it hard to discredit the things that could have been done better. It’s a story about good people learning to embrace the differences that make them unique and being a crutch to lean on when they need it most. In a lot of ways, that’s also what the trail is about, and at the end of the day, those are the kind of stories we could use more of. Interested to see what the general consensus is from folks who haven’t walked the walk, but it’s a pleasant trip all the same.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2011 12:18 am

    Very adventured film.

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  1. The Best Movies of 2011: #80 – #61 « Cut The Crap Movie Reviews

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