Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Truly Good Movie

I just finished watching a film that will have a permanent place in my collection. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, this film captures the heart and soul of what it means to travel, for me. The Way stars Martin Sheen as a reserved, close-to-vest American eye doctor whose wandering son, played by Estevez in very effective glimpses, dies on his first day on the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela. The doctor receives word via a phone call while he's out on a golf course and is immediately off to retrieve his son's body from the Pyrenees region. It is while there that he decides to cremate the remains and is motivated (not inspired yet really) to complete the journey for his son, leaving ashes at key landmarks along the trail. As he goes along, the doctor takes up with other pilgrims: a big-hearted Dutchman hoping to lose weight yet unable to resist the culinary delights of the road, a jaded Canadian woman pretending that she's taking the pilgrimage to break her smoking habit, and finally a somewhat eccentric Irish travel writer seeking to end his writer's block. As you might imagine, the story takes you through the various personalities and their various ups and downs. There are touching moments, but not in excess. There is plenty of humor, but it's not a comedy. In the end, as you would certainly expect, everyone comes to terms with why they are on this pilgrimage and how the doctor's motivation becomes inspiration.

One might say The Way is typical, yet it doesn't feel so as you watch it. I found myself going with it, my only criticism with the writing is that perhaps the doctor's decision to finish the pilgrimage for his son comes a little too soon, as depicted. Yet, I quickly forgot about that and found myself enjoying the journey with the characters and certainly falling in love with the landscape. This film reminded me so much of why I wanted to travel the world to begin with, and of the many places I have seen so far since I started. In short, it rings true, to this traveler. While including some of the elements of world travel that have become cliche to the meme, Estevez manages to poke fun at these things, ultimately getting to the core of the traveler's spirit. You see, travel -- not tourism -- is always a personal thing. What you get out of it is not usually what others see as you're doing it or can really understand from photos or videos you share. This film tries to present that truth in an engaging set of characters and a story many can relate to. I think it succeeds.

So why am I reviewing this contemporary film here on a site dedicated to classic adventure? Because The Way is a classic adventure. The story and how it's told could easily be converted to black and white, the costuming and props switched back to 1940s counterparts, and you'd have a movie you might believably see on TCM. The actor, James Nesbitt, playing the Irish writer resembles Tyrone Power well enough to seem like he walked out of the original Razor's Edge at times. The spirit of adventure never changes, only the accessories and clothing do. If you're a fan of personal quest pictures, you might like this film a whole lot. It's a refreshing change from the comic book heroes and the explosions and the goddamned cartoons with celebrity voices and all the 3D. I wish films like this would have a fair shot in theaters again.

I recommend The Way to all true adventure fans looking for a film to just kick back and enjoy with an afternoon to be lazy.  It's the sort of film I know I'll be talking about and recommending to many people for years to come. Bravo, Emilio! And thanks to my friend Stan Shambaugh for telling me about it!

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