Emilio Estevez zooms in on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage
EMILIO Estevez's oddball road movie, "The Way," does not have a moneymaking bone in its body, and I mean that in a good way.
It's a true indie, financed outside the system, promoted via an old-fashioned barnstorming tour by Estevez and his dad, Martin Sheen, who are riding around the U.S. in a bus, hosting promotional screenings (there was one in Neshaminy last week).
The whole thing is a family affair - the idea came from one of Estevez's own sons who, while living in Spain, learned of the ritual of the Camino de Santiago - an 800-kilometer spiritual pilgrimage through the Pyrenees and Basque region of Spain.
Estevez (who also read Jack Hiatt's book about the Camino) decided to invent a story around it - that of a tightly wound U.S. man named Tom (Martin Sheen) who impulsively decides to finish the pilgrimage undertaken by his free-spirited son (Estevez), tragically killed on the first day of the hike.
Despite the flinty, disagreeable Tom's effort to keep other hikers at bay, his mysterious solo effort attracts attention, and he's soon joined by a disparate entourage - an outgoing Dutchman (Yorick Van Wageningen), a cynical Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) and a b.s.-prone Irish writer (James Nesbitt).
There is little in these developing relationships that will surprise or enlighten - as a screenwriter, Estevez seems to waver between the overscripted and the underwritten, without finding the sweet spot in between.
But there is one character that director Estevez gets exactly right. That is the Camino itself, and the Basque country. The movie is shot guerrilla-style on location, is consistently gorgeous, and leaves you with a vivid sense of place and an idea of what the pilgrimage looks and feels like (it incorporates real places and people).
"The Way" concludes in coastal Spain, inside the cathedral of Santiago - the first time that cameras have been allowed inside the structure.
The guardians of the cathedral were perhaps persuaded by the movie's sincere treatment of the pilgrimage, an act of religious atonement by many who take it.