Tree of Life director Terrence Malick has had an enormous impact on actor Martin Sheen’s life.
“He’s one of the great, great people,” says Sheen, “and one of the most mysterious, wonderful characters.”
Professionally, the director gave Sheen the role that broke him out of the episodic television grind and made him a movie star. As Kit Carruthers in Badlands, Sheen won raves and was set upon a career path that would see him star in Apocalypse Now and win a collection of Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards for playing President Bartlet on The West Wing.
Personally, however, Malick’s influence has been even more profound. A formerly lapsed Catholic, Sheen’s faith was restored after meaningful discussions with Malick 30 years ago.
The pair has stayed in touch despite Malick’s notoriously reclusive lifestyle.
“He is the most shy person I have ever met in my life,” says Sheen.
“He was living in Paris years ago and we got reacquainted in 1981. One day we were walking down the street and somebody recognized me and he kept going. I lost him totally! I said, ‘Hey, how are you guys?’ and boom, he was gone.
“He lives in Texas with his wife, who is the love of his life. They grew up together and went to school together but it took two wives in between to get back to that. I adore him.”
The two old friends still engage in deep conversations, says Sheen, and it’s possible that indirectly their tête-à-têtes helped the actor get into his latest film, The Way.
“We talk about family,” Sheen says.
“We talk about spirituality. We talk about the mystery of life.”
All topics covered in the new film.
Directed by his son Emilio Estevez, it gives Sheen his first chance to carry a film since the days of Apocalypse Now.
Describing the movie as a story about “loss, recovery and healing, with some laughs along the way,” Sheen hands in a touching performance as Tom, a man struggling to deal with the death of his son.
What begins as a physical trek on the El camino de Santiago from France to Spain turns into a spiritual pilgrimage as Tom re-examines and rediscovers his faith.
Sheen is out tub-thumping the film to the press, but there is one person he surely won’t be deliberating it with — his friend Malick.
In the movies there are as many was to come of age as there are kids to mature into adulthood. Teen wizards fight dark lords, young rock writers have their heart broken by sad groupies, Parisian boys turn to crime and a girl named Baby does “The Lift” with a camp dance teacher.
“The Way, Way Back,” a new comedy starring Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and Canadian actor Liam James, sets the story in a beach resort where a kid is trapped in a world of adults. It doesn’t add anything new to the coming-of-age genre, but what it does, it does really well.
Duncan (James) would rather spend the summer break with his father in California, but instead is headed to a New England beach town with his mom Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Carell) and his daughter (Zoe Levin). The place is “like Spring Break for adults,” which doesn’t leave much room for Duncan to enjoy himself.
He’s an introverted fourteen-year-old, who can’t stand Trent’s condescending attitude or the change in his mother when she is around him. The summer becomes bearable, however, when he meets Owen (Rockwell), the free-spirited owner of Water Wizz, a local water park.
“The Way, Way Back” has a number of characters best described as “quirky.” Movies like this frequently rely on an artificially created sense of eccentricity to mask weaknesses in the storytelling, but when the actors involved are as good as the cast here, a few kooky characters are welcome.
Surprisingly Carell gives one of the least quirky performances of his career. As Trent he is cold and controlling, the kind of guy who treats Duncan like an add-on to his relationship. He calls the boy “Buddy.” as if he can’t remember his name, and after every pronouncement says, “Am I right?” It’s a quiet, nicely realized villainous performance that will help erase the image of nice-guy Michael Scott from viewer’s minds.
Collette also does solid, down-to-earth work alongside Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry as he loud, goodtime neighbors, and AnnaSophia Robb as the cute, sensitive girl next door.
Liam James also does a nice job as a teen who admits, “There’s not much for me at home,” and takes the initiative to make his life better.
The performances you will remember when you leave the theatre, however, belong to Allison Janney and Rockwell.
Janney, as the drunk, tag-along neighbor storms into the movie like a wild sea squall.
“I’m drinking again,” she announces. “Accept it and move on.”
It’s a big performance that requires her to deliver lines like, “That’s exactly the kind of bathing suit that got me pregnant the first time,” and while she is a caricature of the loud mouthed person you never want to sit next to at the regatta, she is expert in her delivery.
As man-child Owen, Rockwell is a fast-talking loser who has probably watched “Animal House” one too many times. Prone to doling out Bueller-esque life lessons like “Go your own way” and “Don’t die wondering,” he provides some real heart and becomes a satisfying component of the movie’s would-be father and son story.
Less nuanced is Louis (Jim Rash) who mans the bathing suit rental booth at the park. He’s quirky for quirk’s sake, but Rash is a master of the deadpan, and it works.
“The Way, Way Back” is more than just another study of awkward teen behavior. It’s a sweet movie with genuine laughs and despite the occasional bigger than life performances, is remarkably down to earth.
“The Way” is a way better movie than you would imagine from a director who was once a Brat Packer whose most famous character admitted to taping “Larry Lester’s buns together” in “The Breakfast Club.” It’s also a family affair with Emilio Estevez directing his father Martin Sheen in the lead role.
Sheen plays Tom, a complacent optometrist whose adult son (Estevez) is killed in a freak accident while walking El camino de Santiago from France to Spain. After collecting his son’s ashes in France Tom decides to continue his son’s journey and walk the 800 plus km pilgrimage. What begins as a physical trek turns into a spiritual journey as he spreads his son’s ashes and forms a small family of fellow travelers (Yorick van Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger and James Nesbitt) before reaching his goal of seeing the burial site of the remains of the apostle Saint James at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain.
“The Way” is a road movie. Not the Bob and Bing kind of thing where people burst into song and Dorothy Lamour does the samba, but a movie that really is about the journey and the lessons learned along the way.
Estevez has made a thoughtful film with beautiful scenery, complex characters and just a few too many walking montages. The characters walk and walk, which is fine because mostly they are going somewhere both physically and mentally, but fewer steps might have made for a tighter film.
Estevez allows the story to breath, but sometimes, like the hikers themselves, the story breathes a little too heavily. There aren’t many lighthearted moments here and Sheen brings dignity and gravitas to his role, but clearly several moments meant to tug at the hearty strings fall flat.
“The Way” is a heartfelt and interesting film, that occasionally over reaches but succeeds in telling a life affirming story.