Newly widowed Frank Fogle (Oscar®-nominee John Hawkes) embarks on a journey to Ireland to scatter his late wife’s ashes. His estranged son, Sean (Logan Lerman), recently released from prison, agrees to join only when his father promises that they’ll never see each other again following the trip. After revelations surface about an old flame of Frank’s wife and a charming hitchhiker (Sarah Bolger) with plans of her own intervenes, father and son find themselves drawn together in unexpected ways.
With END OF SENTENCE, Icelandic director Elfar Adelsteins tells a heartfelt story of two lonely souls and their slow rapprochement during a road trip in Ireland.
There have been many Stories like this in film history, in which two people reluctantly embark on a road trip. In this version, however, Adelsteins shows how to approach such a story correctly. This begins with the intro sequence in which Frank Fogle (John Hawkes) visits his son in prison with his wife Anna (Andrea Irvine). Before entering, she is asked to remove her bandana, giving the viewer an intimate view of her state of health. This humiliating act is clearly enough to show the bond of the two. In a subsequent scene, the film shows John lovingly hugging his wife. Completely without words, Adelsteins creates a mood that’ll surely leave no one untouched. This is an example of true cinematic art and therefore it’s completely unnecessary to show the death of the woman. Where other films are unnecessarily tear-jerking, the director completely relies on his main performers and thereby knows how to convince.
Through this type of character-painting it’s very clear that Adelsteins understand his craft and we as a viewer are in good hands. Fortunately, he remains faithful to this style until the end of the film and although there are more than enough moments for the film to drift off into stereotypes, he stays on the right track the whole time.
A magical moment is provided by Sarah Bolger, whose character is taken along by the two protagonists on their road trip, after Sean met her at a bar. In a small pub somewhere in Ireland, she starts singing along with the band playing there the melancholic folk song „Dirty Old Town“. This was written in 1949 by Ewan McColl and made popular by the bands „The Dubliners“ and „The Pogues“. This scene, which was recorded as it is on set without any dubbing later on, provides an absolute goosebump moment.
But the wonderful John Hawkes as well with his sensitive and restrained portrayal, is giving his character of Frank a lot of credibility. Logan Lerman also knows how to convince, playing the role of Sean Fogle. He was certainly not the obvious choice for the role, after all, his role is not at all similar to those he has played before. Here finally he is not the shy, reluctant young man, for whom self-confidence is a foreign word. No, in this role he is quick-tempered, easily irritable, and obviously knows exactly what he wants and what he does not.
In contrast to other films, in which alienated fathers and sons try to reconnect, in END OF SENTENCE, however, most of the time the son is the driving force triggering the change. Also, the experiences that made both father and son to become what they are today, the movie omits completely. There are no tearful flashbacks that explain one or the other behavior. This even isn’t necessary, because it completely results from the intense interaction of the two main actors.
END OF SENTENCE is a wonderful road trip that never leaves the beaten path, does not take unnecessary detours, and therefor emotionally establishes ties with the audience. That’s exactly what a poignant and touching film looks like.
At the 73rd Edinburgh International Film Festival, I had the opportunity to talk to leading actor John Hawkes and director Elfar Adelsteins about the film and many more:
End of Sentence (Ireland / Iceland / USA 2019)
John Hawkes, Logan Lerman, Sarah Bolger, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson