Written by Michael Armbruster (“Beautiful Boy”) and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Elfar Adalsteins, “End of Sentence” starts out like a typical “guy gets out of prison and tries to readjust” movie. Hawkes’ Frank Fogle brings his wife Anna (Andrea Irvine), who’s in the late stages of cancer, to visit their car thief son Sean (Logan Lerman) in prison near the end of his term. The purpose is to say goodbye. She dies soon after, and six months after that final visit, Frank shows up at the prison with a car and a duffle bag full of clothes. He asks his son to come with him to Ireland to scatter his mother’s ashes on a particular mountain lake: her final request.
Turns out Sean doesn’t want to go because he despises his father for reasons we’ll learn in due course. He says he has a job waiting for him in California, and that if he doesn’t show up a few days from now, first thing on a Monday morning, they’ll give it to someone else. They compromise (with the help of a little guilt-tripping) and agree that they’ll try to get the job done as fast as possible so that Sean can make his appointment.
Of course things don’t go as planned. As the detours, twists, and happy accidents accumulate, father and son are forced to come to terms with the reasons for their estrangement. At the core is Sean’s perception that his father is a meek, weak man who failed to prevent his grandfather, Frank’s dad, from treating him cruelly. The relationship between these two men, one impulsive and swaggering, the other soft-spoken and allergic to violence, suggests a unmade sequel to the classic “Rebel Without a Cause,” with the James Dean character going to jail for car theft, getting out many years later to find that his mother had died and he has to lean on the emotionally emasculated father that he loathed when he was young and free.
And it’s here that you might want to check out if you haven’t already read reviews of “End of Sentence” that give the entire story away.
It’s not that this is a particularly surprising movie in totality: you can tell early from the tone of the script, direction, and performances that this is a nice movie that’s going to pluck the heartstrings, but there’s no chance that it’ll grab the whole instrument and dash it against the pavement, as a director like John Cassevetes or Mike Leigh might have done with a similar premise. This is a “healing journey” movie that tacitly guarantees a happy, or at least hopeful, ending, and you can feel the movie preparing to hit certain expected beats that always arrive on time, regardless of whether you can accurately forecast the exact details.