Established Icelandic producer Elfar Adalsteins takes to the director’s chair for the first time with End of Sentence, a gentle, sentimental road movie across Ireland and into the inner complexities of an estranged father-son relationship. While that plotline might sound a little too much like well-trodden ground, the road trip which comprises its core veers off-piste enough times to keep the audience entertained, while tight writing and restrained but impactful performances from leads John Hawkes and Logan Lerman imbue it with the emotional heft it aspires to.
The story opens on Limestone Correctional Facility, where wayward son Sean (Lerman) is serving out the final weeks of a stint behind bars for car theft. Unfortunately, his release comes too late for a reunion with his terminally ill mother Anna (Andrea Irvine), who succumbs shortly beforehand, while his relationship with his father Frank has deteriorated to such an extent that he rejects his offer of a lift home. As it emerges that Anna’s dying wish was for the pair to visit her native Ireland and scatter her ashes in a remote lake – and that Sean may find it harder to return to the world of employment than he anticipated – the son is eventually persuaded to comply.
So the stage is set for a predictable yet still touching patching up of their relations, as the trip forces each to confront their own failings and insecurities. Frank must come to terms with his own overly accommodating nature and the fears that his wife may not have been as devoted to him as he once thought, while Sean’s tough guy exterior is revealed to be a front for the sensitive soul buried deep underneath. Irish femme fatales (an on-form and enigmatic Sarah Bolger), car troubles and farcical brushes with the law delay their journey with varying degrees of credibility, but even at its most sentimental or belief-stretching, End of Sentence still retains a degree of realism and a healthy dollop of heart.
That’s largely due to the stand-out performances of both Hawkes and Lerman, who take an accomplished (but potentially unspectacular) script and breathe life into it with every interaction. In their moments of vulnerability and aggression we see authentic flashes of the human condition, while their shared sense of loss and trauma is what ultimately and inevitably brings them together. But while the final curtain might bring down a foregone conclusion, the raw emotion of the journey makes the destination feel like a deserved and ultimately worthwhile one.