Anytime Richard Linklater steps behind a camera you should pay attention and he’s returned to cinemas with a heart-wrenching story of brotherhood and comradeship in Last Flag Flying.
Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War.
Watching Last Flag Flying is watching a master filmmaker at work. Ever since he first broke onto the scene in 1991 with Slacker, Linklater has proved himself able to move between stories and genres with relative ease and he won considerable critical acclaim for his work on the fantastic Boyhood back in 2014. With Last Flag Flying, he again moves to tell a compelling story of human existence and interaction and works to adapt the best selling book by Darryl Ponicsan, who famously wrote The Last Detail.
Here Linklater follows three over the hill former servicemen who served together in the Vietnam War and who have essentially been forgotten by time and the society for whom they made such great sacrifices for. This plucky trio of Sal, Doc and Mueller are the every men of America who now together decide to make one final road trip to honour Doc’s son who was sadly killed in Irag. What follows is a quintessential journey of friendships that are rekindled as these men share memories of times long past and reminisce on what was, what is and what could have been.
Narratively the film is very simple with the three of them making the trip to return Doc’s son home and honour him with a funeral befitting his status as a Marine. But deeper to this Last Flag Flying examines powerful themes of brotherhood, comradeship, personal sacrifice and time gone by. While these men may not have seen each other in decades their time spent together brings back strong memories and instills in the film’s audience a desire for them to look back at moments from their own lives.
Direction like this is powerful and is the result of the film primarily being character driven rather than narrative driven and it leads to some truly memorable moments from its cast. And an impressive cast it is. It frankly doesn’t get much better than Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne and here they are as three misfits who through tragedy experience one last great hurrah.
All of the actors are completely true to their characters with Cranston portraying the flamboyant Sal, Carell the broken Doc and Fishburne the reserved Mueller and it’s fun to see them riff off one another. While I’m certain that Linklater was working off of a pretty tight script he gives his cast plenty of room to breath and the result is some great moments on screen, with some of my obvious favourites being Sal’s continuous pranks on Mueller.
It’s rare these days to find a film that puts so much emphasis on its characters and a director who gives his actors such room to stretch. But Richard Linklater is a filmmaker who has always done things his way and this really shows through in Last Flag Flying. Get ready to reminisce about your own life as you follow three good’ol boys who decide to live it up one last time in a film that is packed out with heart, meaning and plenty of laughs.
Image: Transmission Films