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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
The Long and Winding Road Leads Me Back to Me
by Donald Levit

The Way is the Road of the Apostle St. James the Greater, Paris to northwest Spain, Santiago (St. James) de Compostela, one of three venerated medieval pilgrim destinations. Blocked on a “wrong road,” anti-Church Irish writer Jack (James Nesbitt) insists, however, that “the road is among our oldest tropes,” and this nearly two-hour screen journey is patently more interior than geographical. Despite the obvious tramp to feel-good regeneration and new purpose, the result is worth it above the not overdone, little-known landscapes of the Green Coast along the Bay of Biscay.

“You didn’t really think it was about [stopping smoking], you know that,” rhetorically asks Canadian Sarah Maria Sinclair (Deborah Kara Unger), and the reasons given by each of the four principals are equally covers for the spiritual self-realization they would find but are unsure of or embarrassed to admit. The quartet are initially mismatched and mutually suspicious and intolerant, but it is a given that they will bond along the five hundred miles -- from half-way, starting in the Pyrenees -- strengthening one another while as individuals strengthening themselves.

Testy widower Tom Avery (Martin Sheen, born Ramón Estévez) is a Southern California ophthalmologist -- success, money, golf and like-minded friends. His “old and tired” existence is interrupted on the links by a call from gendarme Captain Henri Sebastián (Tchéky Karyo). Turning his back on studies for a profession, forty-year-old free-spirit son Daniel (writer/director/co-producer Emilio Estévez) had gone adventuring, “not to choose life but to live it,” and died in a mountain storm the first night of his solo pilgrimage trek. Canceling a week’s appointments, the non-believer Catholic father flies to France to retrieve the estranged son’s ashes.

That the real-life father and son have publicized problems with another son and brother may have inspired something here, or will at least occur to viewers. In vision appearances it is the offspring who teaches the sire, hippy-bearded Daniel encouraging, approving of and smiling at his father who determines to complete the intended journey/quest and deposit the ashes along the way. Not in shape and against the cautions of Sebastián -- who has also lost a son -- he sets out, in the wrong direction, with Daniel’s gear, staff and sixty-five-liter backpack. He is sixty, and though there are others his age and more on the route -- including another type of father, New York priest Frank, covering a brain-cancer scar with a yarmulke and giving Tom a rosary -- the international crowd is predominantly young, happy and celebratory.

Early on he is unable to avoid being joined by two of his eventual companions, all three like himself playing rôles to hide inner hurt. First of those forced upon him by circumstance or by themselves, is overweight Dutch overeater, compulsive talker and mild druggie Joost (Yorick van Wageningen). Soon Sarah falls in with them, her protective cynicism masking memories of an abusive ex and a terminated pregnancy. Puzzled by Tom’s being more hard-to-get than she, the Canadian analyzes others better than herself, intuiting that the dead man is still Tom’s “baby” as much as her aborted daughter is hers.

Amidst universal if sometimes perfunctory wishes for success, their brief encounters with locals more than with fellow pilgrims bring in kooks, kind folk, dreamers and noble Gypsy father Ishmael (Antonio Gil), whose counsel leads them to rocky Muxia, braving the sea beyond the cathedral built over the Apostle’s tomb.

Jack is the fourth, the catalyst that brings their inner beings, including his own, into the open so that they can cleanse themselves of illusion to begin anew to comfort life near the bone and not discover, when they come to die, that they have not lived. His writer’s notebook and prying, along with a credit card, bring a tipsy Tom to a boil and detention by police. That plastic pays the bail, and the four are now freed to let their hang-ups hang out.

Of them only Tom is pictured, for a few frames, after this particular goal of Santiago. But one knows that, younger and enthusiastic again, all go on to better lives. Fathers and sons, wives and children, reconciliation and uplift for the soul -- undemanding schmaltz but most comfortable for its type.

(Released by Arc Entertainment and rated "PG-13" by MPAA.)

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