I could not view the newest venture of Linklater's without acknowledging in my head that he seems to be doing a lot of soul searching with his last two films. Everybody Wants Some!! was a trip back to the college days, a somewhat sequel to his high-school classic Dazed and Confused. Here in Last Flag Flying, he seems to be coming to terms with his age, making a film about three men attempting to reconnect, make sense of the wars still being fought in 2003, and find meaning in their lives up to this point.
The three characters represent a bit of someone we all might already know in life. Carell's Doc Sheppard has lived it the right way, finding a person he loved with all his heart, having a son who proudly served in the Marines, and yet never having the luck that he deserves. Sal Nealon (played wonderfully by Bryan Cranston) is a wild man, a marine lifer, and someone who's never been able to let go of his drinking or past shortcomings. The third, and final friend, is Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), whom I related to the most. I'm not a religious man, but his past as an alcoholic, with a loving wife whom he credits to saving his life, and finding peace in sobriety is a result of his happiness. His character may be the most boring to some, but he's earned his gentle life, having walked through the fires to get there.
Their trip winds down many roads, where originally Doc's son was to earn the full heroes honors, but when a fellow Marine mate (J. Quinton Johnson) reveals that his death was less than honorable, Doc decides to take his boy back home to New Hampshire, dragging his buddies along the way. They inhabit train cars and U-Hall trucks, discussing past war stories, their beliefs on religion (a Linklater staple subject), their anger with government, a lost pride for their country, lovers they've had, lovers they've lost, and good laughs. The humor in the script, co-written by Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan, is often constant, while balanced with the heartbreaking, often somber situation, of a man burying his only son.
It's slightly hard to recommend Last Flag Flying to audiences because there's no action to it. Those who enjoy the in-depth process of Linklater's past works, such as Before Sunset or Boyhood, know that his films tend to be about the present moments had between two people. It does become a bit tasking, with the pace often craving a jolt of energy. His camera focus, however, is on how these lives grow with time. From the people they were or the person that existed in the past, his narrative is a cathartic experience, with an accent on the journey for these men, who never stopped being boys.
The performances all around are solid, with Cranston turning in the best of the three. Last Flag Flying is nowhere near peak Linklater, but it's a film that feels like a growing shift for the Austin, Texas native. Long gone is the film of his teenage angst, but a reconciliation with his past, being happy in his current state, at the dawn of a twilight stage, in a career that is always game to carry the cinematic colors. Last Flag Flying may not win the war, but it earns a lot of stripes.
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: LAST FLAG FLYING
STARRING: STEVE CARELL; BRYAN CRANSTON; LAURENCE FISHBURNE
DIRECTED BY: RICHARD LINKLATER
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
When it comes to conversation films, Richard Linklater might be the only director actively trying to keep them center stage for mainstream audiences. And although his efforts will seem futile to many, especially in today's market, those who know the Before Midnight directors history will be highly appreciative of his newest film Last Flag Flying. The story involves three Vietnam war veterans, reuniting 30-years later, under the difficult circumstances of traveling on the road from Washington D.C. to New Hampshire to bury the son of Larry “Doc” Sheppard (Steve Carell). Last Flag Flying is a film about finding ones self in the twilight years, while dealing with the reality that life is fragile.