End of Sentence is available to rent or buy from 10th May 2021 through Blue Finch Film Releasing.
What are the ingredients of the perfect road trip drama? Secrets revealed? Love lost and found? Enlightenment? Or maybe a series of sublime performances rooted in reality? Whatever works for you, this sub-genre has given us some of the finest films of the past 30 years, from Almost Famous to My Own Private Idaho and Thelma and Louise. However, due to the plethora of movies sitting within this sub-genre, it can be difficult to create something new, distinct and engaging. Therefore, it’s always a pleasure to watch any film that gets this mix right from the first scene to the last. Taking a screenplay written by Michael Armbruster, Elfar Adalsteins debut feature End of Sentence is one of those movies. With Adelsteins bringing us a delicate story of a father and son torn apart by secrets and unspoken trauma.
Our journey opens as Frank Fogle (John Hawkes) and his terminally ill wife Anna (Andrea Irvine) pull up outside the visitors centre of a prison. Here, their son Sean (Logan Lerman) is nearing the end of a prison sentence for car theft. However, the end of his sentence will not come in time for his mother to see him walk free. The purpose of her visit, to say goodbye.
Several months after her final visit, Sean walks free, his only thought to make it to California, where a job sits waiting. However, when his dad, Frank, shows up at the prison with a duffle bag full of clothes, Sean is less than keen to engage with his father. In fact, Sean won’t even mention the word dad; referring to his father as Frank at all times. But, Frank is not about to give up, explaining to Sean that his mother’s final wish was to have her ashes sprinkled on a mountain lake back east.
Frank explains that Anna’s last request was for him and Sean to undertake this journey together. A request that is problematic given the father and son relationship they both share—a broken relationship almost beyond repair. However, to add to this complexity, the lake in question is not just east of their location but in Ireland, the place of Anna’s birth and youth.
Despite Sean’s reservations and apparent distrust of his father, he agrees to undertake the trip. His only condition that he is back in California in three days to start his new job. Frank agrees, saying the two never have to see each other again after the trip if that’s what Sean wants. And so begins their journey to Ireland, a trip that will unearth secrets, build bridges and finally set both men free from the trauma of their past. Now at this point, I know what you are thinking; this all sounds somewhat familiar? But, while it may feel familiar in construct, End of Sentence is fresh and engaging in delivery.
In many ways, End of Sentence owes much to Rebel Without a Cause; for example, here we have a young man seething with anger, a mother who kept the family unit together and a father who avoids conflict at any cost while remaining emotionally closed. Its place and purpose in dissecting the barriers and divisions of family life rooted in discussions on masculinity and emotional intelligence.
However, with End of Sentence, the divide between father and son is rooted in events much darker than simple generational divide, rebellion, and a changing experience of manhood. The film’s themes of abuse, power, and unspoken pain central to the experience of both father and son as our story progresses. However, if all this sounds heavy, the final film is not. Here, Elfar Adalsteins movie is both delicate, assured and deeply intelligent, allowing moments of humour and emotion to co-exist in a journey of healing and hope. And when coupled with sublime cinematography, a thoughtful and powerful score, and an energetic pace, End of Sentence excels far beyond many similar movies. Here, Adalsteins gift for character-focused and performance led drama shines through. His camera reflecting intimate moments of connection through a mere look or gesture, revelling in inter-personal realism.
But, what makes End of Sentence stand head and shoulders above similar movies is the performances at its heart—the casting perfect in allowing Armbruster’s screenplay to come alive. Here, John Hawkes is nothing short of exceptional as Frank. The actor’s ability to reflect the hidden, repressed emotions of a father in grief for his late wife and his distant son, compelling. Hawkes is, of course, a master of the understated performance, and End of Sentence is no exception, with Hawkes performance garnering audience empathy, frustration and hope in equal measure. His character’s pain, submerged yet present in every facial expression as he avoids the problematic discussions that bubble under the surface of his calm and controlled exterior.
Meanwhile, Logan Lerman further proves that he is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood today. His ability to display the anger, frustration and entrapment of his character both assured, engaging and beautiful in construct. Here, Lerman not only shows Sean’s similarities to his father but his desire to escape these at any cost. His past misdemeanours indicative of a damaged boy searching for belonging in all the wrong places. Sean’s only genuine desire to be loved and to love in return despite his bad-boy image.
There are, however, a few flaws that stop End of Sentence from achieving its full promise. And the most startling of these is the introduction and subsequent discarding of the beguiling Jewel (Sarah Bolger). Her role ultimately a plot device rather than a meaningful character exploration. This is unfortunate, as Bolger’s performance is exceptional, her characters damaged past, and shady present left hanging in favour of pace and conclusion. Equally, there are moments when End of Sentence chooses to replace the complexity of its story with simple narrative junctures that keep the film’s short runtime on track.
However, despite these minor flaws, End of Sentence is an astonishingly accomplished debut feature from Elfar Adalsteins. One that not only ticks all the right boxes in the road movie sub-genre but does so with artistry and depth. And while its core narrative may feel familiar, the true genius of End of Sentence sits within its ability to feel fresh and new. The film’s final scenes rooted in an inescapable truth; the division and fears caused by secrecy are never easily overcome. But hope and healing always lie in the power of communication, love and openness in overcoming fear and division.