Martin Sheen is the grumpiest old man ever in THE WAY

Martin Sheen has never been crabbier than in THE WAY, the Emilio Estevez-directed “trail movie” that chronicles a grieving father’s pilgrimage walk from France to Spain to scatter the ashes of his only child. When Daniel (Emilio Estevez) ditches his dissertation to travel the world, he dies suddenly in a freak accident on the Camino de Santiago, the famous Christian pilgrimage trail spanning Spain. His father Tom (Sheen), who was already pissed at Daniel before he died, decides to finish the journey to honor the lost life, and boy is he mad about it. The film is mostly overly earnest, particularly once Sheen’s demeanor begins to turn (and in a freaking montage, no less!). Fulfilling expectations if you are looking for uplifting content, it’s loose, relying on a huge score (James Taylor!?), repetitive landscape shots and overly-drawn kooky companions who won’t ditch Sheen even after he’s been an asshole for the umpteenth time. Granted, the guy is grieving, but these are strangers to him, and his behavior is pretty bad. To the movie’s credit, I haven’t seen a middle aged anti-hero quite so angry in a good long while.

It’s interesting to scan the critics, many of whom give the film a sort of kiss-slap. Here’s The Arizona Republic: “”The Way” is overly earnest and clumsily directed by Emilio Estevez … it is nonetheless effective in evoking empathy and introspection.” Huh? And The San Francisco Chronicle: “With “The Way,” writer-director Emilio Estevez has made a respectable failure.” These types of comments strike me as both confusing and amusing, but somehow I get it. Some elements are irresistible, including simply watching Sheen’s craft. And it’s hard to diss the content, dad redemption. But honestly, if this tale did not feature one of America’s greatest actors with his son at the helm, I’m less sure it would be finding its way at the box office.