DVD Review: The Way

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MSRP 26.99
STUDIO Arc Entertainment
RUNNING TIME 121 minutes
• Commentary by Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez and producer David Alexanian
• Camino Americano: Taking the Way on the Road
• Pilgrimage: Behind the Camera
• Father & Son: Uncovering the Characters
• Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son – a dual memoir by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez

The Pitch

The sane members of the Sheen family make a family bonding movie.

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The Humans

Directed by Emilio Estevez Starring Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Deborah Kara Unger, Tcheky Karyo

The Nutshell

“The Way” is a powerful and inspirational story about family, friends, and the challenges we face while navigating this ever-changing and complicated world. Martin Sheen plays Tom, who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to collect the remains of his adult son, killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago,. Rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage to honor his son’s desire to finish the journey. What Tom doesn’t plan on is the profound impact the journey will have on him. From the unexpected and, oftentimes, amusing experiences along “The Way,” Tom begins to learn what it means to be a citizen of the world again. Through his unresolved relationship with his son, he discovers the difference between “the life we live and the life we choose.”

The Lowdown

I never heard of the Camino de Santiago before this film. The fact that I am not catholic plays a part in my ignorance, but this nearly 500 mile walk is traveled by up to 40,000 people annually. The scenic walk is known for its astonishing landscape and the immersion into nature its “pilgrims” succumb to. Our movie uses it to awaken a man to a new spiritually aware version of himself that pilgrims often say they discover.

Until the finale the movie does not alienate the viewer if you aren’t catholic or of a Christian religion, but there is a 5 minute segment that is used in an attempt to inspire belief. I wouldn’t let that deter you, as the film itself plays well and mostly deals in grief and human interaction. Such stories are often hard to keep interesting, but The Way intelligently uses the journey to keep the viewer involved. The characters evolve and come together as most bonding movies do, and we end on as happy a note as we can for a movie that begins with the death of Martin Sheen’s son, played by Martin Sheen’s son, Emilio Estevez.

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The marketing for the movie makes you believe that the father and son go on the walk together, but as soon as you get by the introduction of Martin Sheen’s Tom, you find out this will not be the case. Estevez is seen many times in the film, but doesn’t speak more that 4 or 5 lines, and is there solely as a reminder for why Tom is walking the walk. I liked this addition, as if you have lost someone close, you know there is absolutely no guideline as to when something may remind you of them in an overpowering way. This adds to the emotions of the film, and lays some heavy seeds to bloom into some strong emotions once all the characters have been assembled.

Martin Sheen doesn’t seem to age. Ever. The man is 72 years old and doesn’t look like he’s much past 50. He plays the part of the grumpy old man very well, letting his emotions show when his character is alone, but just acting grumpy when the other pilgrims are there. Dan’s (Estevez) presence always looms in the film the same way it would for Tom showing up at many strange times, like at a dinner table or when drinking. His grief for his son manifests itself most in the relationships he has with Joost (Yorick Von Wageningen) and Jack (James Nesbitt). He hates them for being so liberal and free, but at the same point he loves them for those exact reasons.

Deborah Kara Unger plays our leading lady, a cold bitch from Canada. Her character makes some nice changes from bitch into someone just trying to deal with her own stuff. I very much like that her character wasn’t made into something less by forcing her into a romantic lead, and just kept her as a nice female lead and voice of reason.

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As a wealthy ophthalmologist, Tom is too lazy to pick up his golf ball at the beginning of the film. His physical prowess is immediately tested and pushed on the 500 mile journey, not just from the walking but also from the conditions that resemble the life of a gypsy. The pilgrims sleep in rooms lined with cots where if you miss the scheduled dinner time you are left without food. The sacrifices the pilgrims make are plenty and influence the impact the journey has upon them.

Estevez does a good job directing his father, but not without faults. The locations provided such beautiful scenery, but the cinematography does not take full advantage of it. The shots appeared stale to me, with less life than seen on the Animal Planet channel. The colors are dulled and muted, and not from the transfer but from the original color correction or film stock that was chosen. Other than a few scenes towards the end, the main focus appears to always be the travelers and unfortunately not inviting us into what they are experiencing as they are traveling.

When the movie first ended, I found it to have been a little of a flat experience that I mostly blamed on the pacing of the story. After thinking about it for hours, I will blame the deflated experience on the camera. The story moved great for what it is. Keeping the viewer wanting to know more about Tom and his grieving, but I wanted more of the sights taken in. This was Tom making such a large character break from his normal lazy and content self. The sights must have seemed larger than life to him, and none of that is displayed to the viewer. Have the guy stop, look at a church or a valley with the camera on him, but then what he is looking at. Track more instead of as many straight ahead or behind shots. There was a staleness that if fixed would have turned a good film into a great film.

Like Tom, I am not real religious (and not Catholic). I thought that may have helped more in my appreciation of the film, though it would not be a reason to avoid this film. The main plot deals with a highly religious concept but doesn’t lather the religion on. In fact, a lot of the film has moments where someone will say that it’s common for non-religious folk to walk the Camino De Santiago. There is one moment towards the end of the film where Estevez couldn’t hold back anymore, and the scene takes about 5 minutes top. Not long enough to force it on you if you don’t wish it.

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The Package

The DVD looks as if it comes packed with a bunch of extras. In reality, what is there isn’t much more than usual. They have a behind the camera that begins with behind the scenes and then transcends into some sort of glorified trailer. The taking the road feature showed Sheen and Estevez preparing to promote the film from a tour bus decorated with promo art. They appeared casual and as themselves, but both were pleasantly excited to be making the road trip. The father and son discovering the characters was almost identical to the behind the camera. These 3 special features were under 3 minutes each and no more than 10 minutes totalled. Also add to that the normal talking head commentary, even though it was done by Sheen and Son. The last thing was a sample of a book the father and son were releasing detailing their memoirs about their life and leading up to and including the time spent on this film. The only question that holds for me is how good their mental state was while filming encompassed the Tiger Blood onslaught of press going on at the same time.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

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