The Way: Martin Sheen treks the Camino de Santiago

I’m often skeptical when Hollywood forays into the realm of ‘travel films’.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been some wonderful movies in recent years that capture the true essence of the world of travel & the beauty of venturing on a grand journey: Lost in Translation, Into the Wild, L’Auberge Espagnole, Before Sunrise, Up in the Air, and The Beach (did you really think I wouldn’t mention it?) are just a few examples of travel narratives done right.

But those successes aren’t enough to stop the certain feeling of dread I get whenever I learn that Hollywood has again attempted to tackle the travel theme. Perhaps certain blasphemies like Sex & the City 2 or the recent rendition of Gulliver’s Travels keep this fear alive every time I shell out $11 to go on a two-hour cinematic adventure.

That being so, when I first heard about The Way; a film directed and developed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen, I expected the worst. An adventure film produced on the magical wings of nepotism? Sounded like the perfect storm.

But Wednesday night’s New York City premiere in partnership with the Walkabout Foundation promised a dazzling list of A-listers (Former President Bill Clinton, Ivanka Trump, Dhani Jones, Wyclef Jean, & the Sheens, among others) and promised to benefit a good cause, so I packed my cynicism away for a few hours and decided to see the film.


So, is it worth the trek to the theater? Click on through to find out.

The Way is the story of a Tom (Martin Sheen), a father that loses his intrepid son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez) as Daniel sets out in the French Pyrenees on a solo journey along the historic Camino De Santiago. Devastated by the loss and desperate for a way to reconcile their distanced relationship, Sheen’s character decides to embark on the Camino himself, carrying his son’s ashes every step of the way.

In brief, the Camino De Santiago (or the Way of St. James) is a 500-mile trail that starts in France and ends near the Northwest tip of Spain. It was first trekked in the 9th Century by pilgrims hoping to visit the remains of the Apostle St. James upon their initial discovery. In the early days, it was an arduous undertaking; weather, meager provisions, and difficult terrain all took their toll on the dedicated peregrinos. But by the 14th Century, it’s estimated that 25% of all Europeans walked the Camino and today, over 200,000 hikers complete the pilgrimage every year; for many different reasons.

Through Tom’s journey and the friends he makes on the trail, a very poignant illustration of the Camino De Santiago is presented; the beauty of the environment is vivid, the community among pilgrims is familiar to anyone that’s bonded with strangers on the road, and over the course of the film, the mood of sun drenched afternoons walking, eating, and drinking through the Spanish countryside is tangible. The characters all feel genuine and there’s enough clever humor throughout to make the film a fun adventure to be a part of.

One of the best parts of the film is that the story feels real; from a traveler’s perspective, it’s relatable and stays true to its roots of telling the story of the Camino. It strays from the typical over-dramatized treatment that Hollywood loves and instead tells a very real story that will resonate with many people who have trekked the Camino & anyone that’s ever ventured on a journey to cope with a personal battle. For this reason, I think it joins some of the other great travel narratives as a movie that’s definitely worth seeing for those interested in adventure.

The Way succeeds in staying true as a travel story partially because of how it was produced; Estevez insisted that the crew was never larger than 50 people (including actors), a large part of the film was shot on the go using a versatile Super 16mm setup, and the actors actually hiked a good portion of the Camino throughout the course of production.

In all, I give The Way 4 out of 5 St. James’s Shells. It opens for a limited release in theaters today and a wide release on October 21st. So long as you don’t have to make a pilgrimage of your own to go see it, give The Way a second look this weekend.

Easy Rider: greatest road movie of all time

Dennis Hopper died on Saturday. He had a long career as an actor, director, photographer, and painter.

I’ll remember him as the director, co-writer, and co-star of Easy Rider, which shot to the top of my list of favorite movies when I first saw it at age fourteen and has stayed there ever since.

I had never seen a movie like it before. Every shot of László Kovács’ camerawork looked as carefully composed as a painting. It had a rocking soundtrack, cool characters, and an epic journey on the open road. I was also intrigued by a dark undercurrent that got darker as the movie progressed. What more could an angsty teen itching for freedom ask for?

As I grew up I kept coming back to it, like when I chose to major in archaeology as people around me shook their heads and muttered words like “practicality” and “earning power”. I watched it several times in my twenties, and again in my early thirties when I decided not to pursue my Ph.D., as my colleagues urged me to reconsider and not “waste all that work”. It’s followed me through ten years as a writer, a career with less “practicality” and “earning power” than archaeology.

The more I watched Easy Rider the more I saw in it. While it’s superficially about Wyatt and Billy, two friends who have scored big on a drug deal and set off on a cross-country motorcycle trip headed for Mardi Gras and a life of freedom, it’s about much more than that. The film is laden with symbolism. Their cocaine dealer is named Jesus and Wyatt’s prostitute friend is named Mary, just for starters. Plus their visits with hippies and communes show a stark despair under all the drugs and flowers. The rural Americans they meet are hostile, and the two friends get threatened and jailed at every turn. As the film progresses you see what Dennis Hopper and coauthors Peter Fonda and Terry Southern were getting at. Two young men with all the money they need are on a quest for freedom, and they fail–miserably, horribly, and, because they rejected a better path when it was offered, inevitably.

Many other films are beautifully shot and carry deep messages under the surface glitter, so why is this my favorite? It comes down to one scene, one line really, a line I’ve always felt but never heard anyone else say. I didn’t need to hear that line at fourteen because I had already figured it out for myself, but it sure helped to know someone else felt the same.

At one point Wyatt and Billy pick up a nameless, arrogant hitchhiker. While camping in an old Indian pueblo Wyatt turns introspective and quietly asks nobody in particular,

“You ever want to be somebody else?”

The hitchhiker, too cool to communicate, tokes on his joint and says, “I’d like to try Porky Pig.”

Wyatt gives a little laugh, pauses a moment as he stares into the campfire, and says softy,

“I never wanted to be anybody else.”


Thanks Dennis.