There's no more essential story than that of the Hero's Journey, and when you combine that with a tale of redemption and spiritual awakening, you should have all the ingredients necessary for a moving, powerful film. That was what Emilio Estevez undoubtedly had in mind when he adapted, directed and gave himself a key role in the film The Way.
The titular Way refers to El Camino de Santiago, an ancient 800km pilgrimage from France to Spain, and the reluctant pilgrim is Tom (Martin Sheen, father of Emilio Estevez), who has flown to France from his comfortable suburban life to claim the body of his 40-something son Daniel (Estevez), who has died unexpectedly on the first day of his own journey towards Santiago de Compostela.
As with many men of his generation, Tom has poured all his wishes and dreams into his only child, Daniel, and the few scenes where we see them converse are hard to watch as each hovers in his own corner, afraid of really seeing the other for whom they truly are and acknowledging that love isn't about approval and expectations, but something a lot deeper.
Unfortunately, the parallels of real life paternity only work for so long and within ten minutes of The Way, it's painfully obvious that Martin Sheen is terribly miscast in the role of the confused, withdrawn, grieving father. He just doesn't have the acting range to convince us that he is a man deeply grieving the loss of his only child, something that no parent should ever have to experience and that should create a profound, breathtaking sadness. Sheen's a one-note actor and while being "distant" or "disconnected from his feelings" could work for the first part of his ultimately inexplicable journey along the entire 800km Camino de Santiago, by the end of the film it's embarrassing to watch him react to the overt religious overtones of his pilgrimage with no more emotion than he'd have ordering a cappuccino at his favorite Starbucks.
There's a warm, thoughtful and moving film waiting to be made from the Jack Hitt book, but Estevez didn't capture it with his banal script and Sheen was just, well, awful. Skip this one, even if your "enlightened" friends tell you how deep and profound it was...