It has taken the newcomer producer-turned-director Elfar Adalsteins eight years to get his debut feature film off the ground, aptly titled “End of Sentence.”His first feature is an overly familiar but multi-nuanced melodrama about the fragile relationship between a father and son (superbly played by John Hawkes and Logan Lerman), whose vulnerabilities and dynamics go through transitions and reconciliation upon their trip from Alabama to Ireland.
With the right word-of–mouth and marketing, “End of Sentence” could have a strong crossover appeal way beyond the indie film demographic. This movie should place Adalstein into a stronger forefront and a larger movie deal with his next endeavor. Adalstein has crafted a character-driven narrative that explores a complex yet tender insight at the process of family dynamics and coping with grief. His style often has changes of tone shifts–from the melodrama and tragic to the comic and poignant-from scene to scene the film can change with semi-successful to mixed results.
The title refers to the story of a son who is just released out of prison, Sean (Lerman) who wants nothing to do with his passive father Frank (Hawkes), in which he persuades Sean to travel to Ireland to fulfill the promise of spreading the ashes of his wife Anna (Andrea Irvine) who recently deceased from cancer and had a brief visit with Sean just before she passed. The film becomes the cliche road movie where the characters learn and grow on the process, but there is enough balance that makes the film’s central themes more universal in their unraveling. Adlafstein asks what happens when a disconnected father and son are forced to confront their tensions from their ordinary, self-centered lives to uphold the plight of a woman who was a mother and wife.
The last thing Frank and Sean ever wanted to do was look back on their undeniable bitterness they hold towards one another. Having avoided each other for so long, it is clear Frank never visited Sean while he was in prison. Both men end up getting cocooned in their own complicated and hidden lives where they must tarnish and eradicate their past tensions.
Yet, despite their frustrations, Frank and Sean muddle through their trip to Ireland with manual transmission rental cars and hotels. What throws their relationship off balance for the better, once Sean encounters Jewel (Sarah Bolger) a beautiful and mysterious woman at a bar in Ireland that comes off sweet, yet somehow ends up deceiving them in a very surprising and borderline unnecessary way. The character of Jewel brings a lot of depth to the characters, however the direction where her character goes feels very contrived and not too convincing.
One thing leads to another, and even Frank ends up finding himself attracted to her who only adds more insult to the father-son relationship. The new encounter forces Frank and Sean to prolong their journey on hold and extend their trip since Sean is supposed to return back to the states for a job opportunity out in Oakland, California. From this point on, the narrative takes a rather formulaic route, with Frank and Sean recalling past memories and rediscovering the traumas that placed themselves apart.
The plot revolves around the two men efforts in finding the lake that Anna wanted her ashes disposed in. In these events leading up to it, we get an updated view of the landscapes and status of Ireland, from the modest and less expensive areas to the more remote places; quite a few scenes showcases the visually arresting landscapes, forests, and lakes Ireland has to offer.
But the strength of the film lies with the mutli-nuanced characterization from the script by Michael Armubster (Beautiful Boy), who’s script has many contrived and some overly pat moments that is paid off with affecting performances and exchanges between Hawkes and Lerman. We have seen several feature films about parents reconnecting with their children, and while “End of Sentence” doesn’t break any new grounds or does anything technically or thematically distinctive, but the overall end result of this film comes off noble and sincere.
It’s safe to say that, at the peak of his career, Hawkes is one of the most brilliant and versatile actors working today, who is committed more to indie and smaller films produced outside the Hollywood system. His work in “End of Sentence” is more vulnerable and timid than some of his more tenacious we have seen him in such films like “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” and “Winter’s Bone”. Even his resilient performance was both alarming and buoyant in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Amazon Prime cinematic mini-series “Too Old to Die Young.”
In this picture, Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fury) offers a quality performance that showcases his range as a performer. Both Hawkes and Lerman capture in great detail the upheaval, the father-son rivalry, that debate on their journey, and ultimately, the more honest exchanges they have force them to deal with their past differences.
Ending on a very gratifying note, “End of Sentence” shows how two conflicted family members begin to realize the power of coping and family. In this aspect, “End of Sentence” is a moving and quintessential self-discovery movie worth visiting.