Unnerving characters have been John Hawkes’ stock in trade, from his shifty Oscar nominated turn in Winter’s Bone (2010) to the predatory cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011). Which makes it almost too easy to overlook the other side of his work, the more vulnerable characters, such as in The Sessions (2012). It’s that aspect of his range which comes to the fore in End Of Sentence, a film that’s taken the best part of two years to reach our – albeit small – screens since its premier at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2019.
To the outside world Frank (Hawkes) is the mildest of men, never one to make a fuss or complain – served the wrong burger in a restaurant, “it’s OK” – but the death of his wife Anna (Andrea Irvine) and the return of his estranged son Sean (Logan Lerman) finds him confronting some truths about his life. Not something that comes naturally. Sean has been in prison and wants nothing to do with his dad, but Anna’s last wish was that her ashes should be scattered by the two of them in Ireland and Frank is determined to keep his promise, regardless of Sean’s hostility and reluctance.
A familiar premise, then, and as their road trip progresses through the lush Irish greenery, by way of a few drinks, and they meet mysterious hitch hiker, Jewel (Sarah Bolger), the story opens out to explain Sean’s anger and Anna’s back story. It also demonstrates that, however well we think we know somebody, however close we feel to them, there’s always something we’ve never known, realised or, indeed, understood. It’s a lesson Frank learns and, as the film reaches its climax, is also able to teach his son so that, although at the outset it looks like we’re in for yet another bickering road movie, it takes on a thoughtful, contemplative tone and mixes it with a serving of gentle, knowing comedy.
There’s also a welcome touch of unpredictability. Just as you think you know exactly where the story is going, writer Michael Armbruster decides to turn the tables and veer off in a different direction, giving the well-trodden format a whiff of freshness. Crucial to the film’s appeal is the Hawkes/Logan double act, who start out as polar opposites – the mild mannered dad and his troublesome son – but, as their stories inch out, they both emerge as men with deep seated reasons for their behaviour, more alike than they could have anticipated. Both actors are beautifully cast and deliver satisfying and convincing performances.
The sub-plot involving Jewel, and the revelation that comes with it – that Anna had another life that neither father nor son knew about – are less successful. They feel perfunctory, bolted-on, even if they do help explain some of Sean’s difficulties. They sadly undermine what is otherwise an eminently likeable film, nicely photographed and confidently directed by Elfar Adelstein‘s in his debut. And one that, despite its modest arrival, is worth checking out.
Drama | Cert: 15 | Digital | Blue Finch Film Releasing | 10 May 2021 | Dir. Elfar Adalsteins | John Hawkes, Logan Lerman, Sarah Bolger.