If film has taught us anything, it’s that even the most burned bridges can be rebuilt simply with a road trip driving over them. Such is the case with debut feature from Elfar Adalsteins’ End of Sentence, that sees John Hawke and Logan Lerman as an estranged father and son, reluctantly brought together to fulfil a promise that will lead them to the Emerald Isle and some home truths. Having not been behind the camera since his 2011 short starring the late John Hurt, Adalsteins first turn on a feature film shows a lot of promise and thankfully, impressive efforts from its two leading men at the wheel.
Starting off in a tough spot, End of Sentence sees Hawkes’ Frank Fogle take his wife to visit their son (Lerman) in prison, where she bids a final farewell. Sean will be getting out soon, but it’s established very quickly his mother won’t be there to meet him. Reaching the end of a losing battle with cancer, her last wish is for her ashes to be scattered across a lake in Ireland where she grew up and both father and son to be there to do it, which is easier said then done given that one wants absolutely nothing to do with the other.
Both are sides of a worn down coin, Lerman is the hot-headed, troubled son who is itching to square up to his timid, and so often tested father figure that looks to have lost battles of his own. Never one to complain and living by the creed that “sometimes you’re the pigeon, and sometimes you’re the statue,” Hawkes is exceptional as a faded soul that just wants to do right.
He isn’t the cliched tested spirit waiting to bubble over, as instead the Deadwood star establishes with the smallest of gestures that that time has come and gone for father Fogle. There’s an immediately present heartache to the hollowed-out Frank that Hawkes captures brilliantly. It’s in his avoidance of complaining about getting his dinner order wrong, or trying to politely get out of a conversation with a stranger. One particular moment in the film’s final act encapsulates him perfectly, leaving you screaming at the screen to do what is needed, whereas Frank can’t say a word. He’s the guy not really afraid to stand up for himself, but instead avoids the disappointment altogether. As a result, it puts an ‘elephant in the car’ between him and Sean not because of tension brewing, but the lack of it.
What it does is fuel the fire burning from Lerman who gives us one of his most solid and surprising performances in some time. Pushing Frank’s buttons to reach the level of rage that is clearly stewing in himself and failing to do so, it sparks a solid and believable relationship that is in tatters from the off but makes the gradual reformation so much more rewarding. That said, with the film leaning more towards opening the father up than the son that is so distant from him, there are times when End of Sentence feels uneven and suffers for it.
Hawkes has a lot more to work with as the man just trying to be a good husband and tolerable father, where Lerman is often left sulking in the back seat, looking out through a rain soaked car window at the beautifully shot Irish vistas. The only major advance in his character is done so with the help of Sophie Bolger’s Jewel, a Dublin local who hitches a ride and works more as a plot device than a solid character. Being there she helps set the wheels in motion between father and son, but little is done to give her more attention than she deserves, particularly when its revealed that all is not as it seems with the Fogle’s new passenger. It’s a bump in the road that could’ve done with more work but doesn’t hinder the film too much, as it allows its two main leads to flourish in getting to the other side of their tumultuous journey and providing emotional heartfelt moments for the pair of them.
As far as big screen debuts go, End of Sentence assures that if this is only the beginning for Adalsteins, this simple and sincerely heartfelt story is a great place to start.
Directed by: Elfar Adalsteins
Written by: Michael Armbruster
Cast: John Hawkes, Logan Lerman, Sarah Bolger