Posted by: dowsmallgroups | 18/05/2011

The Way: A Review

A short while ago, thousands of new Catholics were received into the Church at Easter Vigil services around the world. Given the themes of faith and journeying, the recent UK release (13 May) of the feature film, The Way seems rather timely. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, The Way stars his father, former West Wing star and practicing Catholic, Martin Sheen with cameo appearances by Estevez himself.

The film begins with Tom Avery (Sheen), an ophthalmologist cautioning an elderly patient, who has memorised the eye charts, that she really should wear her glasses. While vision and lens are never mentioned again in the film, the idea of seeing afresh is clearly integral to this touching story of Tom’s travels to northern Spain. A widower living in sunny California, Tom’s comfortable lifestyle is suddenly rocked by a phone call received while on the golf course with a foursome of old friends. He hears that his son, Daniel (played by his real life son, Estevez), who has given up everything to travel, has tragically died in a storm on his first day out on The Camino de Santiago.

Tom travels to the start of The Camino to bring home Daniel’s remains but after meeting with one of the local police, a seasoned pilgrim, Tom cancels his appointments back home and decides to help Daniel finish his journey along the picturesque 780km trail that has attracted walkers since the Middle Ages. Planning to spread his son’s ashes along the way, the solo traveller sets off using Daniel’s kit and carrying a tin box containing the ashes.

Apart from the occasional shots of beautiful statues and crucifixes and the gift of a rosary from a priest, a fellow pilgrim, there is little that might be described as overtly religious scenes along the way. Yet, on closer reflection, the entire journey itself is very much a journey of faith – of ongoing conversion.
Shortly after setting out, Tom inadvertently knocks the backpack and the tin box, off a footbridge and he is forced to follow it into the water to retrieve it. The sacramental reference may be not be explicit but is undoubtedly clear.

Throughout the film, there are scenes where Tom ‘sees’ Daniel enjoying the camaraderie of his fellow pilgrims or giving him a friendly word of advice. Despite his not particularly personable demeanour, Tom slowly connects with several fellow pilgrims: a Dutchman, Joost (Yorick van Wageningen) with a very hearty appetite for food, drink and drugs, Sarah (Deborah Unger); a Canadian trying to move beyond an abusive relationship involving an abortion and Jack, a talkative Irishman (James Nesbitt) who is walking in effort to get rid of his writer’s block. Both their day-to-day interactions and their respective inner pilgrimages are as much a part of the story as the trek itself. As their friendships develop, the unlikely foursome discovers the beauty not only of the Spanish countryside but also of the care they come to provide each other.

Reaching the end of this long and winding well-trodden path Tom, like all pilgrims, is invited to a special noon Mass in the historic Cathedral of Santiago De Compostela. The interior shots of the magnificent shrine to the apostle, James are breathtaking. This particular journey is complete and the joy is palpable – somewhat akin to the Holy Saturday Vigil.

Certificate: 12A – running time: 128 mins ……. Click here for cinema times in London as of 18 May 2011:

With thanks to Margaret Wickware for contributing this post.



  1. Beautiful article about a movie that sounds beautiful. Glad this film is finally coming to North America.

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