Published Nov 03, 2011The Way is a story of one man's struggle against intractable odds attempting to complete a journey his son has left behind, testing his mental, physical and spiritual will. It will be a journey thrust upon him, yet one that seems inevitable. Witness the inspirational story of... Martin Sheen trying to win an Oscar?
Surprising as it may be, Martin Sheen has never won an Academy Award. Never even come close, in fact, not even garnering a nomination for his half-in-the-bag, heart attack-inducing turn as the unhinged Cpt. Willard in Apocalypse Now. Truth is, the former Ramon Estevez has largely eschewed the kind of flashy supporting turns that earn a gentleman like him little gold statuettes ― that ticket to actor immortality.
The Way is pretty much a Sheen one-man show. He's Tom Avery, a gruff but avuncular eye doctor who receives the shocking news that his nomadic son, Daniel, has passed away suddenly while on the "El camino de Santiago" pilgrimage in France. Grief-stricken, but sensing a void in his life, Tom spontaneously decides to complete the two month foot journey in his son's stead. Along the way he encounters a gregarious Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), a caustic Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) and an aspiring Irish poet (James Nesbitt).
The Way dares to go where few (English language) films tread, exploring the nature of the spiritual journey, and Sheen definitely is rock-solid, evoking a strong sympathy without losing sight of his character's essential nature and difficulty grieving. The Way is like a road movie without any roads, and as such, gives in to some of the handy clichés that road movies love to employ, particularly in the way it handles conversation, seemingly afraid to let some of the quiet moments do the work. Yet just when things get too heavy-handed, the always-great Nesbitt shows up and adds some necessary levity.
The Way has a few great, quiet moments, but it tries to do more than it can with what it has. Emilio Estevez has extracted an excellent performance from his dad and grafted it onto a compelling story, but the film still feels tentative, not the work of a completely confident filmmaker. (Estevez inserting himself as the saintly dead son into the picture is distracting at best and self-aggrandising at worst.)
Mr. Sheen's turn at the podium will have to wait another year. (Mongrel Media)