Elfar Adalsteins’ End of Sentence is a bittersweet affair, a film that never even tries to fix what’s broken between our two main characters. It’s a story about inherited, intergenerational trauma and fathers and sons, and while it’s all a little too familiar, Adalsteins’ film hits the sweet spot of being sweet and cathartic enough to make a lasting impression.
Frank Fogle (John Hawkes) is a gentle man and hates conflict and confrontation. He will not return his fast food order although it was made wrong and he most certainly wouldn’t want to anger his estranged son Sean (Logan Lerman), fresh out of prison. Sean’s mother, Frank’ wife, has recently passed away from cancer and her dying wish was to reunite the two men with a trip to her native Ireland where she wanted her ashes scattered.
Sean isn’t keen to spend days with the man he essentially hates but agrees to go along after Frank promises he never has to see him again and he will get him to California where a new job awaits Sean. If everything went according to plan once the pair arrives in Ireland, End of Sentence would be a short film and a rather dull one too.
End of Sentence constantly changes its tone between comical, cathartic and just plain sweet. It’s a little tonally confused, unsure what kind of a film it really wants to be, but there is something almost disarming about its emotional honesty. Adalstein and writer Michael Armbruster never treat the trauma both men have experienced, and what eventually drove that wedge between them, as something to romanticize or something that can be resolved in a film. Sure, there is plenty of resolution to be found in End of Sentence, but it never attempts to offer a lasting solution to years of trauma, but instead understand it and how it played its part in making these men who they are here.
What’s most striking about End of Sentence is the performances. Both Hawkes and Lerman play against their usual type and it’s at first a little jarring. Hawkes is so good at playing the bad guy, it’s strange to see him here as a man much more docile than his turns in films like Winter’s Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene. Instead, his performance as Frank brings to mind a film that many have forgotten but need to be reminded of, The Sessions. Both allow Hawkes to let loose a little, be a little funny and dig deeper into emotionally challenging stuff as well as play it with nuance and grace. End of Sentence is at its most devastating when simply observing Hawkes in the more quiet, smaller moments.
But it’s Lerman who is the standout here. While he struggles to shake off the innocence that has followed him from roles in the Percy Jackson franchise as well as The Perks of Being A Wallflower, his turn as the rough and gruff Sean is remarkable. He communicates Sean’s resentment towards his father physically, with a clenched jaw and narrowed eyes full of silent fury. Equally impressive, if underwritten, is Sarah Bolger as the Irish drifter Jewel who catches Sean’s eye. She lights up the screen and is so effortlessly charismatic, even if her character feels like an afterthought and is mostly there to drive the father and son closer together.
The film’s biggest weakness is the script by Armbruster. It offers nothing new or surprising, the narrative toddles on in a predictable manner and hits the exact emotional beats you expect it to. For a feature directorial debut, End of Sentence is an impressive feat for Adalsteins, but lacks a sense of identity for the director. It runs mostly on the fantastic performances, but when they’re this good, it’s hard to care if other aspects of the film lack originality. End of Sentence is small but mighty, an emotionally engaging and compelling story of a father and a son travelling through Ireland.
End of Sentence is on digital download 10 May from Blue Finch Film Releasing