Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne
Run Time: 124 mins
Director Richard Linklater never seems to make the same kind of film twice, always choosing very interesting projects on varying degrees of subject matter. He’s consistently proven himself as a director from films like School of Rock to the Before trilogy to his magnum opus, Boyhood. Last Flag Flying is an unofficial sequel to a 1973 film called The Last Detail, starring Jack Nicholson. Both are based on novels penned by Darryl Ponicsan, only Linklater has opted to change the names of some of the characters in this film. The film follows three Vietnam war veterans who reunite after Larry ‘Doc’ Sheppard’s (Steve Carrell) son is killed in action. Doc finds and reunites with Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) and asks them to accompany him to retrieve his son’s body and bury him.
Last Flag Flying really knocked me back. Linklater has crafted a bittersweet and warm tale of friendship and coming to terms with loss that is very mature. Yet, the film also has bite in its conflicted commentary of military service and patriotism. The performances by the entirety of the cast are superb and of course, the trio of Carrell, Cranston and Fishburne have such good chemistry together.
All of the characters are so well developed that when the film finished, I could have easily watched another two hours of these characters interacting with each other. They are all morally flawed individuals, who have all made mistakes in the past but they all have good intentions. Linklater documents their change from the past beautifully. Carrell continues to prove that he is not a comedic actor and gives a very mournful performance as a broken man struggling to come to terms with the loss of his son and before, his wife. Doc only has himself and doesn’t know what to do with himself, but he appreciates the time he had with his family. Cranston’s performance as Sal, is also brilliant. Sal now runs a bar and is a no-nonsense figure who always wants the right thing for his friends. There’s an excellent sequence where he openly disagrees and challenges a Colonel, choosing to find the truth rather than respecting a higher rank military official. Fishburne might even give a career-best performance here as Richard Mueller. He is no longer the brutal, sweary Marine he was in the war and has now turned to the path of religion, becoming a pastor in his town.
Whilst this may sound like a depressing watch, and it can be quite heartbreaking at times, it also balances comedic moments very well. There’s a brilliant sequence in which the characters discover and buy mobile phones to keep in touch with each other and an equally funny recounting of experiences in the war. This film isn’t billed as a comedy, but I laughed far more in it than some recent comedy releases.
The film also looks and sounds beautiful. Shane F. Kelly’s cinematography chooses to focus on the urban areas, grey and gritty images interrogating the decay of America and the cold country that has failed these characters. Graham Reynold’s score proves a warm, yet non-obtrusive accompaniment that is used sparingly.
Last Flag Flying is ultimately a transformative and emotionally moving exercise in filmmaking. Linklater perfectly balances the tone, with just the right measure of sadness and warmth, peppered with humour. The characters are so brilliantly written and realised on the page and all of the actors are a perfect match for the material. I’d need to see it a few more times to see how it lives up to repeat viewing but it might even be one of Linklater’s best works. Last Flag Flying will be a tricky film to find in its very limited release but its simultaneous internet release means that is easily accessible at the click of a button. It’s a brilliant film and one that I highly recommend seeking.