STEPHEN APPLEBAUM, The West Australian, April 24, 2012
As the undisputed leader of the 80s Brat Pack, Emilio Estevez had fame, money and power. Catapulted to stardom by films such as The Breakfast Club and St Elmo's Fire, he could get almost any movie greenlit. To the Brats, it seemed like Hollywood needed them more than they needed Hollywood.
This wasn't true, of course, and by the mid 1990s, Estevez was all but washed up as a movie actor.
As a result, he knows what it is like to have to seriously take stock of one's life and figure out what's really important. Which is one reason why The Way, Estevez' follow-up as writer- director to his 2006 comeback film, Bobby, seems so heartfelt.
In it his real-life father, Martin Sheen, plays Tom, an uptight ophthalmologist, whose son Daniel (Estevez) dies in a storm while trying to walk the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage across the Pyrenees in northern Spain.
When he goes to collect the body, instead of bringing it home Tom has it cremated and decides to complete the journey in Daniel's memory. En route, encounters with other pilgrims (based, Estevez has said, on characters from The Wizard of Oz) force Tom to reassess his relationship with the son he'd believed was wasting his life, and his own choices.
The impetus for the film came from Sheen. A former altar boy who reconnected with his faith in the 80s, he floated the idea of taking a couple of digital cameras and making a documentary about him on pilgrimage. Estevez was interested, but thought it would be better as a drama. "I said 'Let's create something here. It's an opportunity. Let's not blow it'," he recalls, in the bar of a Berlin hotel.
Although he doesn't share his father's devout religiosity, Estevez, 49, describes himself as spiritual. "And out of that, and a celebration of humanity, I consider myself pro-life - but in the true sense of pro-life - and the movie celebrates that," he says.
Underlying The Way is the realisation that "all the crap we have encumbered our lives with, and that certainly doesn't fit into a backpack - like the second car, the bigger TV - doesn't make you happier."
Whether by accident or design, this taps into the kind of self-reflection that has been forced on Americans and people elsewhere by the global economic downturn, and that Estevez experienced personally when his career nose-dived.
This was the result of bad choices in making some dismal movies and appearing in others - Wisdom (with Demi Moore), three Mighty Ducks films and the movie The War at Home.
Meanwhile, his high-profile two-year marriage to singer Paula Abdul had come to an end.
"She was a bit of a diva," Estevez says. She was also a star, while his fame was fading - a situation later reflected in the relationship between his put-upon husband/manager character and Demi Moore's boozy singer in the movie Bobby.
"I know something about carrying someone's bags and about being handed the camera when there's a photograph," he'd reflected when we met to discuss that film. "Before that, I had been on the other side of the camera. It was an interesting shift."
With his film career in a slump, Estevez moved into directing episodic television, which didn't have the same cachet then that it has today.
The decade leading up to Bobby was tough, he says. He borrowed money, bet on horses, sold signed trading cards of himself.
"I was doing anything I could. My brother (Charlie Sheen) had given me an original Keith Haring painting and I sold it. I thought 'Well, it's worth three house payments, or that's child support'.
"Truly, I was doing whatever I had to do."
Estevez was to some extent following the example of his father, whom, as a child, he'd watched go from starring in Badlands and Apocalypse Now to appearing in films made for video and cable.
"He said yes to movies he should never have said yes to," Estevez says. "Stuff that was downright embarrassing. But yet I understood it, because he had mouths to feed and people outside of the family that he was committed to take care of, and I admire that."
The Way was partly his way of thanking Sheen, who turns in an engaging performance as a man opening himself up to the world and embracing the joy of simply being alive.
This, perhaps, reflects Estevez' journey, too. He had it all and lost it but now seems content with his lot. He talks warmly about making his own wine and about turning his backyard into a micro-farm, where he grows vegetables and keeps chickens.
The former Brat may no longer be the hot property or industry force that he once was, but Bobby and The Way suggest that Estevez still has some good years ahead of him as a filmmaker.