"Life isn't something you choose. It's something you live" Daniel Avery (Emilio Estevez) tells his father Tom (Martin Sheen) during a flashback sequence in The Way. Tom is a doctor, and he always wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, or at the very least decide on a career and stick to it. Instead, college dropout Daniel left for Europe to embark upon the Camino de Santiago, an 800km pilgrimage that runs from the Pyrenees and across Spain's northern coast before ending at the cathedral where Saint James is buried. Daniel started this journey, but he never ended it, dying in a fall near the start of the route. The Way focuses on his grieving father, as he travels to France to collect his son's ashes and decides to continue the journey himself, carrying Daniel's remains to his intended destination.
The Way is clearly a personal project for Estevez and his father, both of whom have approached it with a tangible sense of heartfelt commitment. The film is built around Sheen's commanding performance as a tough character with closed-off emotions, who barely seems to register the spectacular scenery around him as he trudges determinedly forward. Tom is alone and he intends to remain that way, but the plot keeps throwing companions into his path, who insist on joining him for at least part of the journey. The most enjoyable of these supporting characters is Joost (played with an abundance of good-humoured charm by Yorick van Wageningen), an overweight Dutchman who is walking the Camino in the hope of slimming down before his upcoming wedding. There's also Jack (James Nesbitt), a blocked Irish writer who overcomes the most appalling introduction to grow almost endearing by the film's end, but such development eludes the frequently annoying Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger, looking unhappy throughout).
Plot-wise, not a great deal happens in The Way that can't be anticipated a long way down the road. Tom keeps his distance from his travelling partners but gradually thaws, but not before a rather embarrassing sequence in which he drunkenly rages at each of them, a scene that feels like it has been inserted for effect rather than emerging naturally from the drama. Too many sequences in The Way have that feel; comedy interludes are overplayed and Estevez's attempts to inject some suspense into the movie (Tom loses Daniel's ashes twice) lack urgency. In fact, the whole film lacks a sense of urgency, although its resolutely old-fashioned style and easygoing pace may be enough to endear it to a number of viewers. In truth, it's a hard film to really dislike; as distinctly average as the film is, it has been made with sincerity and honesty, and it yields a handful of affecting moments. Ultimately, you'll know how you're likely to react to The Way by taking a glance at the film's soundtrack listings. James Taylor, Alanis Morissette and David Gray are all present, which neatly sums up the kind of movie it is.