John Hawkes as Frank Fogle
Logan Lerman as Sean Fogle
Sarah Bolger as Jewel
Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as Stone
Directed by Elfar Adalsteins
End of Sentence Review:
Death can bring out some of the best and worst in people connected to the deceased, but no matter the bumps along the road, it ultimately brings even the most unlikely of family together. Dysfunctional families reuniting for a funeral is a subject often explored in film, with everything from more dramatic affairs such as This Is Where I Leave You to full-on comedies like Death At A Funeral, but when a film can find a nice balance between the two in the same way End of Sentence does, it sets itself up for a more compelling affair.
Frank Fogle, a widower, reluctantly embarks on a journey to honor his wife’s last wish of spreading her ashes in a remote lake in her native Ireland and a promise of taking his estranged son, Sean, along for the trip. As Sean steps out of prison the last thing on his mind is a foreign road trip with his alienated father. What he needs is a fresh start in California. But when his travel plans collapse he reluctantly accepts his father’s proposal in return for a ticket to the West Coast and a promise that they never have to see each other again. Between a disconcerting Irish wake, the surfacing of an old flame, the pick up of a pretty hitchhiker and plenty of unresolved issues, the journey becomes a little more than father and son had bargained for.
The plot of the film feels very reminiscent of classic road trip comedies such as Planes, Trains & Automobiles and reflections on legacy such as Beginners, but rather than go for full slapstick like the former or completely retrospective like the latter, it finds a way to ground itself and keep the story focused on the troubled relationship between its lead characters. Even with its relatively short 96-minute runtime, the film still neatly takes its time showing the growth of both Frank and Sean and Frank’s attempts at reconnecting, taking a more believable approach to the damaged psyches behind both and never offering some overly sappy moment.
That being said, while some of their stumbles along the road to spreading the ashes do feel rather familiar and predictable, they still are mostly worthy of at the very least a chuckle, if not a gut-busting laugh. From stray deer in the road to struggles adjusting to a foreign country, the script does a decent enough job of delivering some brevity through most of its serious character development.
But it’s in this sort of familiarity in which many of the film’s problems lie. From stray containers holding ashes bringing memories back of the Robert Downey Jr/Zach Galifianakis-starrer Due Date to characters threatening to leave after heated arguments, the film frequently finds itself relying on too many tropes of its respective genres to help complement some of its more unique and compelling elements, keeping the film from ever truly soaring.
Even when the film finds itself faltering, however, it nevertheless remains a thoroughly entrancing watch thanks to the magnetic performances of leads Logan Lerman and John Hawkes. With a character as tightly-wound and stoic as Frank, it takes a real determination to ensure that when he finally breaks down, we as audiences can not only believe it but also sympathize with it and Hawkes taps into this with grace, delivering at turns a hilarious and heartbreaking performance. Though his turns in Fury and The Perks of Being a Wallflower may have been of a more powerful nature, Lerman still shines in one of his most mature roles to date, never letting Sean become a caricature or cliche but also keeping audiences on their toes about whether we should want to connect with him or have him leave Frank’s life for good.
End of Sentence may not work as hard to set itself apart from similar genre fare, but thanks to a pair of stellar performances, some intriguing character development and some worthwhile humor, it still stands above many other attempts and proves to be a moving tale of loss and growth.