‘End of Sentence’ is a Gritty and Understated Road Trip Film About Grief

A still from 'End of Sentence'. Sean (Logan Lerman) and his father Frank (John Hawkes) stand centre frame, in a mid shot, outside near some trees. Sean is a young man in his late 20s wearing a grey hoodie and black jacket, he is holding some documents. His father squints forward wearing a blue zipped up jackey, mid 50s.
Blue Finch Releasing

Icelandic director, Elfar Adalsteins, adds to the healing family road trip genre with his debut, End of Sentence. It’s a familiar tale that brings nothing new, saved by credible performances and atmospheric Irish scenery.

Sean Fogle (Logan Lerman) is a car thief in an Alabama prison. He is told that his next visit from his Irish immigrant mother will be his last. Anna (Andrea Irvine) is cancer-stricken, told to take off her headscarf and reveal her bald head to the guards. By the time Sean is released, she has passed, leaving his timid father Frank (John Hawkes) eating frozen meals alone.

Sean doesn’t plan to stick around, he is heading for a new life in California and has no time for his widowed father. In the end, he does stay, a grudging sense of obligation to his mother’s dying wish to have her ashes scattered in Ireland.

The disconnected pair are soon on a flight to Dublin. They have a two-day timeline to accomplish their mission of scattering her ashes in an idyllic lake just north of Dublin. You don’t need to be a genius to guess that this mission isn’t as easy as it seems.

Their trip starts with a Guinness-soaked wake in Dublin with Anna’s family. Here Frank learns that his late wife had a wild past. He starts to worry whether he actually ever knew Anna, with her motorcycle-riding boyfriend past. It now becomes clear where Sean’s fiery spirit comes from.

At the wake, Sean hooks up with Jewel (Sarah Bolger). Their romance is shoe-horned into the father-son reunion plotline. She is a beguiling femme fatale with a mysteriously dark past. As she hitches a ride with the pair, she unfortunately, falls into the manic pixie dream girl trap. Here is where Michael Armbruster’s screenplay starts to hit a bump in the road.

The trip soon turns into a madcap caper, ignoring the real heart of End of Sentence. Frank and Sean, both different ends of the personality spectrum, slowly bond as they clock up the miles. At times, their fighting becomes darkly uncomfortably to watch, achieved by two powerful yet subtle performances from Lerman and Hawke.

Frank has let people walk over him all his life, including his own father, Sean is too independent and too spiky for his own good. The undercurrent of this history of abuse is always there, from Frank refusing to undress in front of his son to Sean’s mysterious mark. Jewel is wasted, a thinly written broken woman whose performance in a pub seemingly makes Sean fall in love with her (despite not being the type who would fall for such things).

The complex and layered depiction of grief within families lacks any realistic humour. Any humour depicted in the film is zany and borders on the ridiculous. Set pieces where cars are stolen, and they have to jump over the fence to avoid guard dogs don’t feel like they belong in this film. There is too much to explore between Sean and Frank, it’s a loss to concentrate on any other plot point.

Ireland makes a perfect side-character to the drama. The pair travel through Connemara, Galway, and Donegal, making a detour through a more chaotic Belfast. But it’s really Hawke and Lerman’s film. End of Sentence is held up by the dynamic between the father and son pair.

End of Sentence is let down by on-the-nose writing and heavy-handed sing-alongs. This film is at its best when it’s just two men alone in a hotel room. A masterclass in subtle acting, Sean and Frank’s relationship feels devastatingly real in a film with too many zany plot devices.

End of Sentence is available on Digital Download now

by Amelia Harvey

Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy

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