This was clearly a very personal project for director/producer/writer Emilio Estevez, who drafted in the heavyweight services of his father Martin Sheen for their third collaboration together. Estevez clearly has plenty of talent which he displays with this well intentioned if a little predictable affair. Thankfully the films earnestness, its good humour, and the characters who you begin to warm to as they trudge their way along the Camino de Santiago a famous Spanish pilgrimage route, steer the film away from the well of tearful sentiment it could have plunged headlong into. The recent Australian film "The Tree" cleverly used a giant fig tree as the metaphor for grief. In this film it is all about the journey, and although it is all on foot, this is a road journey if ever there was one.
In the film Martin Sheen's son, played by Estevez himself in flashback, dies whilst attempting to make the great pilgrimage. Eye surgeon Sheen flys from the comfort of his Californian home to France to collect the ashes. Sheen never able to fully understand his sons philosophy towards life, "you don't choose a life, you live one", decides to complete the walk himself for his dead son, and in the process gain a better understanding of his only child. Along the way he meets an assortment of characters. A fat Dutchman walking the route to lose weight so that his wife will sleep with him again. An irritating Irish author played by James Nesbitt, and a Canadian divorcee played by Deborah Kara Unger who suffered past brutality at the hands of a cruel husband. The typical sort of mixed bunch in need of a bit of redemption, which they duly receive along the way. Dutch actor Yorick Van Waginingen shamelessly steals the show as the fat Dutchman, with laugh out loud comments like "if its not Dutch its not much". Those Dutch get everywhere, and yes they do have a great sense of humour. He is utterly convincing as the kind hearted man who just can't keep a secret. Apart from his overblown entrance, Nesbitt is also very good and shows a fair hand at baton twirling on the journey. Hollywood legend Sheen lives up to his big reputation as the reticent moody widower who gradually opens up to those around him. Real life Canuck Deborah Unger holds her own in such strong alpha male company.
The film is well shot, clearly on location, and runs for around the two hour mark, which is a good length of time to warm to the characters. Although I am not a Catholic, the walk itself looked very appealing. Perhaps a little harder than the Cotswold Way, which is the last one I did? A few more blisters in this film might have added realism! The film cleverly fuses the old world with the new. Hence we have grand old churches and a modern wind farm mixed in together. Watching the wind turbines was a strong reminder of Don Quixotes tilting at windmills, which was probably why Estevez included them. How can you not fail to like walkers who sensibly take a break from spartan accommodation to luxuriate in a height of opulence parador. Now these are my kind of walkers! The films good humour and good intentions won me over. On my next curry/film night with the lads, they are quite old lads now, this one may well get another airing. Both entertaining and thought provoking which is a winning combination.