Monday 10 May 2021

Journeymen: "End of Sentence"

We've been seeing a lot of road trips, these past few weeks of lockdown, and I wonder whether escapism is about to give way to the rubbing of salt into wounds. The journey undertaken in Elfar Adelsteins' End of Sentence, a film at once meandering and stubbornly middle-of-the-road, is prompted and sustained by the usual movie contrivance: we're watching an estranged father-and-son pair setting out from the US to Ireland so as to scatter the ashes of the wife-and-mother who briefly united them. The path to final-reel reconciliation is smoothed over by a couple of thoughtful lead performances. As the father, Frank, Adelsteins has cast John Hawkes, an actor who's been underutilised or simply selective indeed since the showcase of 2013's The Sessions. This feels like the kind of project an agent advises their client to take on to keep their hand in and visibility up rather than because anyone has especially high hopes for the project, but Hawkes is too skilful not to do something quietly memorable with the material. Pitching Frank at the intersection of milquetoast and doormat - introducing a man who's innately timid and conservative in his thinking, unable to fathom even the idea of operating outside the rules - he then layers in the sort of gentleness and decency James Stewart brought to many of his midlife roles. We feel for this guy, not least because we fear it may now be too late for him to change.

As the son, Sean, emerging from jail with only scowls for the man who watched his mother wither away, the still semi-cherubic Logan Lerman doesn't immediately suggest car thief, ex-con or delinquency in any form, really, but then Michael Armbruster's script knocks the character's prison-sharpened edges off within half an hour. What follows is a film that falls into familiar, reassuring rhythms, and operates within strict limitations; however many miles it puts between its characters and California, it never strays too far from the American cinema's time-honoured, ever-more-careworn father-son axis. (The film understands Frank, because it's a bit of a Frank itself.) Sarah Bolger, as a passing pick-up called Jewel, brushes the corrosion off a rental car's battery cables and briefly does something not dissimilar to the film: End of Sentence becomes a sparkier ride whenever she's around. Yet she's mostly confined to the backseat, put there to illustrate that Sean hasn't been too gravely damaged by his time behind bars, and to bring the tension between the boys back to the surface going into the final stretch, before being immediately forgotten about. If it's not in any way cutting-edge - last week's Cowboys and Once Upon a River felt fresher, and one of those was set in 1977 - it's far from the worst way to spend a wet afternoon indoors. Adelsteins milks his one helicopter shot of the car passing through spectacular coastal scenery, and the taproom scenes may prompt a measure of nostalgia for the warmth of indoor drinking, though even here Armbruster tends to fall back on Hollywood-Oirish cliché: you are hereby given notice this is one of those films where a pipe-and-fiddle band lurks in the corner of every bar, just waiting to break into "Dirty Old Town".

End of Sentence is now streaming via Prime Video.

No comments:

Post a Comment