As I get older and pass one parenting milestone after another — my 15-year-old soon-to-be-driving son is as tall as I am now — I often wish I could talk to my parents. They both died too young, and I wish that I could ask their advice, but more importantly, thank them for the sacrifices they made for my brother and me.
I came along when my father was 23, halfway around the world in Vietnam, and my mother was all of 20. I can’t fathom having a child to care for at that age. I can’t imagine how they felt about life and the tremendous responsibility they undertook. I don’t know if they had any regrets or what they had to struggle through, yet I do know that they loved my brother and me, and in the end, that’s all that mattered, though they made their share of mistakes along the way.
Elfar Adalstein’s “End of Sentence” deals with the unspoken divide that exists between parent and child, the emotions that can’t be fully conveyed between father and son but are only ultimately understood through experience. As written by Michael Armbruster, this is a story about revelations, secrets exposed, which cast a new light on past events. Wisely taking a deliberate approach, Adalstein allows us to get to know his characters intimately, fostering in the viewer an emotional involvement that makes their ultimate fate all the more meaningful.
Sean Fogle (Logan Lerman) is a young man with too much anger to shoulder. Just released from prison, he’s approached by his estranged father, Frank (John Hawkes), with a proposition he rejects out of hand. Having passed while he was incarcerated, his mother left him her family home. The catch is, it’s in Ireland, where she’s instructed her husband to spread her ashes. His father suggests they undertake this task together and then go their separate ways, if the young man so desires, once they are done. The prospect of inheriting a house isn’t enough to get Sean to agree to this, and he rejects his father without a second thought.
However, circumstances occur that throw the two together, and it’s to Armbruster’s credit that they are as plausible as they are compelling. The journey these two take is a volatile one as old resentments bubble to the surface and much that hasn’t been said between the two erupts with grave consequences. As angry as Sean is, his father is passive, a man who has given up trying to control what happens to him, preferring to avoid conflict, refusing to speak what he feels.
Hawkes and Lerman effectively play against type, the former particularly effective as the father who’s incapable of connecting with his son, bearing a burden he will not speak of. The veteran actor underplays his role throughout, complementing Lerman’s louder but effective turn. Together, the two create a sense of history between the two characters that makes the conflict between them all the more meaningful.
And when Sean comes to understand all that his father has and hasn’t done and why, it is a profound moment Lerman plays with the proper restraint yet emotional sincerity. In realizing what his father has gone through, he realizes all that they have in common and the reasoning behind his seeming inaction. At this moment and through the third act, a consideration grows between the two that should exist between all parents and children yet rarely does. Ultimately, there are no secrets between Frank and Sean in “End of Sentence,” just an honest understanding between the two, the hard-earned fruits of a tumultuous journey.
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