The father and his adult son have been estranged for years. Dad’s trying to make amends for past slights and lost time, but his boy is now a man filled with resentment and bitterness about the past. Still, they’re going on a trip together, and through a series of misadventures and tough conversations and confrontational blow-ups, they just might come to an understanding at the end of the road.
We’ve seen this story before, in movies such as “Nebraska” (2013) with Bruce Dern and Will Forte, and “Kodachrome” (2018) with Ed Harris and Jason Sudeikis, so there’s almost nothing new about “End of Sentence” with John Hawkes in the role of the father seeking redemption and Logan Lerman as the closed-off grown son who isn’t particularly interested in forgiveness, but agrees to the road trip only because he needs something from his father. Still, thanks to the quietly effective direction from Elfar Adalsteins, the sweet and smart (albeit sometimes shamelessly manipulative) screenplay by Michael Armbruster, and the authentic and palpable father-son chemistry of Hawkes and Lerman, this is lovely little gem.
“End of Sentence” opens in an Alabama prison where convicted auto thief Sean Fogle (Lerman) is meeting with his Irish immigrant mother, Anna (Andrea Irvine), who is dying of cancer. Shortly thereafter, Anna passes away. When Sean is released from prison, his father is waiting for him and tells him his mother left him a house in Ireland, and her dying wish was for Frank and Sean to fly to her homeland, claim the house and scatter her ashes on a rural lake north of Dublin. Sean wants nothing to do with Frank or the plan, but in need of funds to travel to California for a job, he agrees to accompany Frank to Ireland in exchange for airfare and expenses to go out West and never see Frank again.
Of course, it’s not going to be as simple as just flying to Ireland, checking out the house, driving to the lake and scattering the ashes. At a pub gathering of Anna’s Irish relatives who couldn’t make it to the services in America, Frank learns a troubling secret about Anna’s past, while Sean hooks up with a young woman named Jewel (Sarah Bolger) at the end of the bar who has a story of her own. (Maybe two stories). Jewel joins Frank and Sean on the road trip, leading to a beautiful sequence at another Irish pub (spoiler alert: there are a few pubs in Ireland) in which a group playing the Pogues’ “Dirty Old Town” invites Jewel to join them, and she turns out to have the voice of an angel.
Mostly, though, “End of Sentence” is about the long and complicated history between father and son. John Hawkes adds to the long list of expertly crafted character acting, doing so much with a small physical tic or a turn of a phrase. Logan Lerman’s broader angry-young-man act plays well off of Hawkes’ quiet intensity. We know where “End of Sentence” is going right until the final moment, but it was a trip well worth taking.