Last Flag Flying
Starring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Lawrence Fishburne, J. Quinton Johnson,
Filmmaker Richard Linklater is a gem to the world of cinema. His creative forces always surprise both critics and audiences, regardless of whether you like his movies or not; you can always appreciate them. While the sheer originality of Boyhood will keep the Austin, Texas director busy trying to top that for years. His latest, Last Flag Flying harks back to his 1995 Before Sunrise drama, which ended up spanning into an Oscar nominated trilogy. Dialogue is often the key ingredient to a Linklater films, that’s the case for this “spiritual sequel” to 1973’s The Last Detail which starred Jack Nicholson. The performances from the three men here are the standout, but patience is required for two hours of dialogue and discussion.
Larry 'Doc' Shepherd (Carell) makes his way down to Virginia, meeting up with former Marines he hasn’t seen in over thirty years. Loud mouth, alcoholic, troublemaker Sal Nealon (Cranston) is the first stop. Next, it’s off to the reformed Richard Mueller (Fishburne) who is now a preacher. As they dine in the Reverend’s home, Doc reveals the purpose of this reunion, asking the former pals to accompany him and the body of his fallen son, back to New Hampshire. “I’m not going to bury a marine, I am going to bury my son,” Larry says, refusing the honor of Arlington cemetery. Opposing personalities, shrouded by sadness and regret, the three men make the trip of a lifetime up the east coast reliving the past.
. It’s bare bones filmmaking with little on screen to get excited about if you don’t find the subject matter interesting.
Military veterans, fathers of veterans or Linklater fans might be who Last Flag Flying is solely intended for. There are no cinematic marvels in this film, it’s idle storytelling where Cranston’s character does most of the talking. Compared to his more transformative screen personalities, this is Cranston (Trumbo) at his most traditional. His alcoholic interjection keeps the film interesting even when the plot slows to a slow drip. It’s often not enough, with this script that’s more about feeling and catharsis than anything else. Carell (Battle of the Sexes) is playing a character unlike anything in his past, an observer, rarely speaking, nearly completely withdrawn. Outside of a cursing preacher, Fishburne (John Wick Chapter 2) isn’t raising any career level bars here.
By the time the men get to the train sequence, we understand them a bit more, and we get more lighthearted material in the overall somber film. Carell’s character gets caught up in a funny moment, an ironic penis joke and he lets out a squeal that should remind fans of his funnier characters. Last Flag Flying at its core is a buddy film, an unconventional road trip, a story that might speak to a few about the importance of friendship and history. It’s not Linklater’s strongest film, nor one of his most inventive. It’s bare bones filmmaking with little on screen to get excited about if you don’t find the subject matter interesting. However, there is an honesty and humility to his work that might not be engaging but something you can respect.
Linklater’s latest lacks cinematic engagement and his usual inventive charm.