At first glance, there’s nothing original about the new father-son movie “End of Sentence.” We’ve seen estranged father/sons before—here the two are played by Logan Lerman and John Hawkes, displaying tough exteriors you couldn’t even crack with a hammer. But as the movie and its characters open up, “End of Sentence” reveals a tenderness hiding under its thick, clichéd exterior.
As directed by Elfar Adalsteins, “End of Sentence” isn’t in the same league as father-son classics “Bicycle Thieves” or “Kramer vs. Kramer,” but it shares the benefit of having a filmmaker peel back characters layer by fragile layer. At first, Sean (Lerman) is an inmate at an Alabama correctional facility, one who sees his loving but dying mother (Andrea Irvine) during visiting hours. Frank (Hawkes) waits outside. The two refuse to see each other until mom passes—her dying wish is a ploy to get her husband and son back together by requesting they scatter her ashes over a lake. The catch—the lake is in Ireland.
And so they hit the road. Full of disdain and resentment and years of pent-up emotions, Sean and Frank avoid each other the first night in Dublin. At mom’s funeral, which is held in a pub—a sure sign you’re in Ireland—the camera observes how the pair deal with grief in different ways. Frank mourns with old friends, while Sean drinks himself silly enough to take a blonde named Jewel (Sarah Bolger) to his rental car. In true road movie fashion, Jewel is one of many speedbumps along Ireland’s windy, country roads.
The speedbumps are mostly standard-issue pit stops inhabited by characters steeped in local lore. Hardscrabble pubs are soaked in merry sing-alongs (Jewel, tagging along for a ride, belts a soulful rendition of “Dirty Old Town”). Other folk songs come and go like an afternoon breeze, scattering dark thoughts and rain clouds to the wind. Later, their rental car goes missing, prompting a chase that gives Sean and Frank time to open up.
One of the things we discover is that Frank’s father was a sad old man, burning his son and grandson with cigarettes. Incidents like these burn bridges and Sean has never forgiven Frank for letting the abuse happen. Adalsteins observes their path to reconciliation with warm expressiveness, without the usual shouting matches that scream, “Give me the Oscar, damn it!” The warmth here feels truthful, as does the arguments about what it means to earn respect.
The performances, as well, feel thoroughly sincere. Though Lerman has had a few tough-guy roles, most of his career has been spent playing good boys, notably in “Hunters” and “Perks of Being of Being a Wallflower.” His turn as Sean—a shattered soul in a muscular frame—will likely change that. As his features increasingly relax, his macho, gruff act dropped, he tells us everything we need to know without a single syllable. Hawkes matches that intensity, his lips seen quivering in startling close-ups. When they recognize each other’s stubbornness to be a form of love, it makes for one of the most moving codas seen in a very long time.
Adalsteins demonstrates a mastery of restraint, a rare ability to hold back emotions so that when they come, they pour forth like a broken dam. This is one of those films built around the final ten minutes—the previous 80 are simply buildup. And that’s OK. It’s a treat to watch Sean and paps finally reach their destination, both physically and emotionally. The lake in front of them runs deep, spanning what could be a mile long. The love between the father and son in its wake, however, is endless. [B+]
“End of Sentence” is available now on VOD.