The Way – Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez hit the pilgrimage trail for a very personal road movie

The Way - Martin Sheen

Emilio Estevez directs his dad Martin Sheen in a road movie that’s clearly a very personal project for both father and son. Inspired by Sheen’s desire to reconnect with his family’s roots in northern Spain, Estevez has come up with The Way, an episodic travelogue whose charms outweigh the occasional missteps.

Sheen plays an American ophthalmologist who travels to the Pyrenees to collect the ashes of his estranged son (played in flashbacks by Estevez), who has died in an accident while walking the Camino de Santiago (“Way of St James”), the famous pilgrimage route to the northern Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela.

On the spur of the moment, he decides to complete the route himself, taking his son’s ashes with him. En route, he falls in with a motley bunch of fellow pilgrims – Yorick van Wageningen’s hearty Dutchman, Deborah Kara Unger’s prickly Canadian and James Nesbitt’s garrulous travel writer.

The Way - Martin Sheen, James Nesbitt, Deborah Kara Unger & Yorick van Wageningen

You might not pick up the references, but Estevez apparently conceived of these characters as versions of the protagonists from The Wizard of Oz. Van Wageningen is the Cowardly Lion, Unger is the Tin Man with the broken heart, Nesbitt is The Scarecrow and Sheen is Dorothy. (The dead son, whose ashes are being carried in a box “is like Toto in the basket, because he keeps getting away.”)

Shot in sequence on 16mm film, mostly using available light, Estevez’s film has a documentary feel and a deliberately loose structure. The pilgrimage road is the film’s narrative spine, and although the story meanders, there’s food for thought about grief, community and faith, plus the odd laugh and tear, along the way.

On general release from 13th May.

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