Martin Sheen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. Thomas "Tom" Avery in The Way.
The Way is fairly predictable however I ended quite liking the film in its inspirational intentions following a father following his deceased son's footsteps by taking a pilgrimage on an ancient spiritual tale that his son died on.
Martin Sheen after his period during the 70's as a leading man came to become perhaps best known mostly for often unassuming supporting roles in terms of his cinematic output. This is a notable exception naturally coming from a collaboration with his son Emilio Estevez as the film's director. Incidentally though the last time I covered a Sheen performance was also in a film about a rather different kind of trek in Apocalypse Now, however this one seems to evoke an attempt to transcend towards a certain heaven rather than a descent into hell. In a film about such a journey though we don't begin with Martin Sheen's Tom Avery as a deeply unhappy man. Instead we just see him briefly living his life, and Sheen shows him just to be an affable enough man before being devastated from hearing about the sudden death of his son Daniel (played by Estevez of course). Sheen is terrific though in portraying the sheer weight of his original sorrows from hearing about the death of his son. Sheen is moving yet he carefully approaches these scenes in showing just how lonely and cold the sadness in the scene. He internalizes very effectively by portraying directly the way all Tom can feel over this and his relationship with his son is that sorrow. Sheen establishes well this state of Tom's grief before and while he collects his son's remains in Europe.
In Europe though he discovers how his son died, and decides to help him finish the way of St. James by taking his ashes while walking it himself. On the journey I must say how much I appreciated Sheen's performance because of how he does not allow the film to veer off into excessively sentimental or corny material. Naturally there are elements to basically turn this film into that sort of thing as par for the course he comes across a few other pilgrims including an acerbic chain smoking divorcee Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), a goofy Dutchman Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), and a slightly daffy philosophical writer Jack (James Nesbitt). These three could easily lead the film astray, and not so much due to the performances, but just the nature of the characters. Sheen though offers just the right balance by carefully never becoming flamboyant in that way, and there are certainly opportunities for some over the top "seasoned old guy" lines. Sheen though stays reserved properly and plays off them well by offering such a down to earth portrayal. In turn Sheen stays true to the character by keeping alive his grief as the underlying factor in the character. Sheen rightfully keeps this as a weight right down to his very physical performance that creates the sense of that sorrow even in the lighter moments.
Sheen captures so well the spiritual and religious journey of the character. Again this is where another actor may have gone very broad but Sheen does so well to keep the journey a fairly subtle one. He creates a real sense of the pilgrimage in portraying Tom trying to come to terms with his sons death throughout the film, rather just being a simple fix at any point. In turn Sheen does well in that he grants moments where there seems joy is coming from the experience, but just as well makes his moments of exasperation as well as confusion of his state just as natural. The one broader scene by Sheen is one I actually thought he pulled off well. In that it is the scene where Tom lashes out at the other pilgrims for their inadequacies after failing to really respect his loss in a proper way. Sheen I felt earned this as in those previous moments where they bring up his son his reactions properly take in some of that distress from their somewhat accidental carelessness, and disregard for his real loss as they get so caught up in themselves. Sheen in the outrage scene instead delivers the proper outburst who has just enough of their little asides, as well as still suggests the anger is part of that same anguish from the death of his son. It is far more cathartic as it might have been as Sheen builds towards in all of the previous interactions making it feel as a natural growth in his relationship with the others.
The most powerful aspect of the film for me though is the continuing portrayal of dealing with the direct grief from Sheen, and surprisingly made the potentially ridiculous moments of Estevez randomly appearing to him throughout the journey rather poignant since he makes you understand what this really means. This is helped by a pivotal flashback scene where we see the two talking before his son originally left to Europe. The two together in that single scene is something special as they manage transport such a genuine relationship into this moment, and sense the history between the two. Although it is a tense scene there is still a sense of warmth, and love between the two even within the words of the conflict. Sheen's performance takes this further throughout the journey though as he depicts the changing state in Tom. Sheen brings such real power to every moment where he leaves some of his son's ashes at one of the landmarks or has to retrieve them from a thief and raging water. In those moments the intensity of the grief Sheen grants to his passion towards his son so beautifully. Past that though throughout he gradually loses that isolation that defined his original sadness. Sheen slowly shows in his eyes a man no longer only looking at the loss, but rather the memory and appreciation for his son as he makes it further on his trek. Sheen never loses sight of this idea and brings such a real heart to center of the film. His devoted and earnest portrayal in every moment of the film anchors it, and makes it resonate far more than it would have otherwise.