END OF SENTENCE— 4 STARS
LESSON #1: THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SHORT-TERM AND LONG-TERM DECISIONS OF LOVE— There is a kindly and uplifting pair of lines delivered around the halfway point of the mournful road movie End of Sentence that sensationally encompass the different romantic crossroads people encounter throughout their lives. A young single woman with much of her life ahead of her turns to an upper-middle-aged widower who has learned new misgivings about the wife he lost and says “You might go on rides with the rebels. It’s the kindhearted ones we spend our lives with.”
Gosh, that is such a smooth and stirring way to express something profound. Rarely veering to hardest of hard or the ugliest of ugly, there is much more of that homely wisdom to be had in Elfar Adalsteins’ debut feature film. Identifying the “rebels” from the “kind-hearted” is relatively easy. The challenges become to what degree agitation within the malcontent can be healed and where strength can develop next to grace in the kindly. End of Sentence is available on VOD from Gravitas Ventures and it is a worthy dramatic experience.
The tender and considerate core of this film is Frank Fogle played by Oscar nominee John Hawkes. Towering with slightness, he is the embodiment of old school courtliness despite coming from a hard southern background. With calm courage, Frank is bringing his cancer-stricken wife Anna (Andrea Irvine, in a short yet poignant role) to an Alabama correctional facility to not merely visit her incarcerated son Sean (the co-headlining Logan Lerman), but to say goodbye. It is not an easy meeting, even with hugs.
LESSON #2: “DON’T LET THE PAST CONTROL YOU”— Anna’s parting words to Sean couldn’t be simpler. A final embrace and a “be kind to yourself” add more to her plea for rehabilitated purity. Months later when Frank arrives to pick up the released Sean, the testy indignation Anna feared within her son becomes clear. Every gnarled posture from Sean being around the father he calls by his first name instead displays discomfort and conflicted history. The body language of one patient and one restless says it all.
Sean is dead set on a warehouse job out west in Oakland that starts in five days when Frank implores him to travel to Anna’s native Ireland to spread her ashes on a special lake from her youth. It’s a releasing request framed by “do this trip and you never have to see me again.” In an uncomfortable clash of modesty and brashness, they agree to this trip. Their rented car for two grows to three if you include the urn and four if you count the hateful distance shared by father and son.
A head-turner that lifts this car and sweetens the occupied air is the fetching Jewel, an attractive roamer played by Sara Bolger (The Tudors). She is intrigued by the Fogle pilgrimage and offers to help them through the country and piece together some of the unearthed mysteries of Anna’s past. Past loves echo past mistakes and possibly new ones. Jewel is the woman feeling dignified enough to drop that dynamite profundity mentioned early while stepping forward in a pub to sing a lovely take on The Pogues’ “Dirty Old Town” with the locals not long after.
LESSON #3: WISHES VERSUS PROMISES— Dying wishes are passed from the departed to the surviving as necessary new promises. Their details compel people, sometimes legally and more emotionally than anything, to overcome any hurdle towards their completion. The trouble becomes the old adage of making promises you can’t keep. There are spoken and unspoken wishes and promises being conquered in End of Sentence that go far beyond those of the late matriarch.
LESSON #4: SHOW RESPECT TO GET RESPECT— The gulf between Sean and Frank is one of respect, among the other lessons above. The elder Frank urges earning respect with actions whereas the harder Sean refuses to grant respect to just about anyone he meets. Even with Sean’s ticking clock of impatience, this trip is a test for him to re-learn respect. Still, true to life and less movie convenience, no one is ever mended of that kind of flaw in a few days. What we watch play out from first-time feature screenwriter Michael Armbruster is merely a start.
Karl Oskarsson’s camera loves these subjects and their quiet quest. His well-placed wide shots embrace and establish the Emerald Isle with off-the-beaten path locations selected by Rossa O’Neill. None of End of Sentence is a Guinness commercial or a chipper travelogue. Karl’s lenses are also drawn to the loosening nerves and released constriction that came with the proximity of characters and attitudes that did not want to be around each other. As their growth swells, so does the film. A meaningful beat of that rises as well from a choice soundtrack of Irish ballads, including the one serenaded by Bolger.
The two lead actors accomplish the ever-present anguish wonderfully and honestly. Logan Lerman displays a twitchy toughness against the soothing chivalry countered by John Hawkes. These are excellent changes of pace from both performers showing the width of their ranges. End of Sentence is a mellow addition to Hawkes’ sizable resume that has not been shy about trying evil too. Similarly, this also counts as new, unforced grit from the rapidly maturing Lerman who has had a plentiful span of playing earnest before this. If their ages were reversed, each could play the other’s part with equal power and character immersion.