#REVIEW: “LAST FLAG FLYING”
Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
Vietnam veteran Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) spent several years in military prison for an unspecified crime before becoming a family man. After the death of his son during the Iraq war he decides to seek out his two war buddies, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to ask for their help in both setting the past and his son to rest. As Last Flag Flying unfurls, the men’s rocky friendship is put to the test as their checkered pasts and differing life views begin to impact those around them.
Much of the Movie relies on the awkward chemistry between Carell, Cranston and Fishburne. The three men haven’t seen each other in decades and have built lives separate from the 3rd Marine Division and who they were during the War. The characters’ attempts to rebuild the comraderie they once shared isn’t always successful but the gradual leaching of their past and present selves is realized in a way that would confound lesser actors. The usually over-the-top Carell is quietly understated in his role as the grieving father in contrast to Fishburne’s brusque reverend who have preferred to skip the road trip with long forgotten friends.
Although the Film is obstinately about Carell’s Doc, the Movie belongs to Cranston. Both Doc and Mueller attempt to rein Nealon in but soon learn he lives life by his own rules. Cranston’s bombastic performance makes the rather unlikeable character more relatable. Although the group reunited because of Doc it is Nealon’s tenacity that keeps Mueller in line and Cranston is not above stealing a scene to ensure things go according plan.
Directed by Richard Linklater, the Movie is as much about friendship as it is the inanity of war and its impact on those left behind. Set in 2003, the condemnation of war is both explicit and implicit in the scenes at the military air hanger where the friends go to retrieve Doc’s son. Carell’s speech is moving but it is the visual of one flag draped coffin being rolled out as another arrives to take its place that speaks loudest. Subtle moments like this can be found throughout and lend weight to the Film’s anti-war message.
Based on the Book by Darryl Ponicsan, Last Flag Flying serves as a rough Sequel to the 1974 Jack Nicholson Film The Last Detail. Linklater and Co-Screenwriter Ponicsan changed enough details to make watching the first Movie unnecessary although it may better explain why Doc would seek out these two former friends to aid him in the task of burying his son.
“Every generation has its war” is a harsh reminder that the cycle of military funerals is not going to end any time soon. Whether it is second generation Marines or kids trying to find a purpose, war is a perpetual machine of destruction. Last Flag Flying juggles these difficult issues through the thin veil of a buddy road trip Movie. Strong performances and great direction make Last Flag Flying a reason to give thanks this weekend.
VVS Films release Last Flag Flying on Friday, November 24, 2017.