Edinburgh Jamie Neish

Edinburgh 2019: End of Sentence review

★★★☆☆

The strained relationship between a father and his son is tenderly observed in End of Sentence, the debut feature film from Elfar Adalsteins. Predominantly set against the backdrop of Ireland, this drama – starring John Hawkes and Logan Lerman – treads a familiar path, and yet still manages to engage with its assured performances and winning balance of heart and humour.

His prison stretch over, Sean (Lerman) emerges to the sight of his father, Frank (Hawkes), the last person he wants to see. Frank is there to take his son to Ireland, where their recently deceased mother and wife, Anna (Andrea Irvine), has requested that her ashes be scattered. Reluctant at first, with the offer of employment in California on the horizon, Sean eventually relents, and the two embark upon a road trip that sees their fraught relationship come to a head while uncovering new truths about Anna and crossing paths with a mysterious hitchhiker (Sarah Bolger).

The idea at the heart of End of Sentence may not be an original one, yet screenwriter Michael Armbruster trounces any feeling of predictability with an engaging series of twists and expositions. The history behind Sean and Frank’s worn and weary relationship inches its way out, making the characters – and ya the audience – understand the reasons behind their attitudes towards one another. It turns out a lot of Frank’s constraints are down to the dynamic he shared with his own father.

The sub-plot involving Jewel, the hitchhiker who catches Sean’s eye at a wake for his mother, where it turns out Anna has lived almost a whole other life that neither father or son was ever aware of, isn’t quite as assured, though it does bring to light Sean’s own difficulties, socially and culturally, that he’s never allowed his father to teach him, despite Frank’s attempts. Hawkes is ever the committed performer, delivering a character in Frank that’s the polar opposite to Lerman’s Sean, who’s fraught with anger and matches him every step of the way. The anger that’s bubbling under the surface erupts in his father’s direction in one scene when tempers truly mount.

Adalsteins directs with steady, reliable confidence and, with the help of cinematographer Karl Oskarsson, captures the wistfulness of Ireland’s undisturbed beauty in a way that reflects beautifully against the thawing of the relationship at the film’s core. It’s not original in any sense of the word, but End of Sentence succeeds nevertheless. Given the right moment and situation, Sean and Frank are able to find a common footing, and both Hawkes and Lerman are fantastic, delivering beautiful performances in the process.

The full EIFF programme can be viewed at edfilmfest.org.uk.

Jamie Neish | @JamieNeish