Last Flag Flying Review

Last Flag Flying (2017) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin


Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater (screenplay), Darryl Ponicsan (screenplay)
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell

Last Flag Flying is the latest film by Richard Linklater and is about three old friends who 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.

Set in 2003, “Doc” decides against a burial at Arlington Cemetery and, with the help of his old buddies, takes the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. The movie is based on the novel by Darryl Ponicsan and is adapted into a screenplay by Linklater who is comfortable in a storyline built on relationships. The film is centred around these three characters throughout the film and what I enjoyed was the personalities that Cranston, Fishburne and Carell brought to the screen.

Steve Carell as “Doc” is brilliant. The actor portrays the role understandably filled with sadness and sorrow. But there is an underlying sweetness and softness to the character who also is the glue the holds the friendship between the three of them for the duration of the movie. I have just recently watched and reviewed Carell in “The Battle of the Sexes” and again I was impressed with the actors range. “Doc” has lost his son in War and tragically lost his wife recently also due to illness but his goal is to give his son the proper send off. Carell’s character throughout the story is unsure how his son died and also has a hard time accepting his son’s choice to enrole in US Services. Thankfully there is some resolve for the character in the movies final moments that put his anxieties and doubts to bed once and for all.

Surprisingly for me the character Reverend Richard Mueller played by Laurence Fishburne has some great moments comedically and its something I felt the actor handled very well. In the thirty years since the Vietnam War, Richard is a changed character clearly being a man of the cloth and appears to be settled and content in his life. The War and his past are exactly that, in the past. Fishburne plays the character much like Carell does with his character at first until Sal Nealon unearths the real Richard Mueller which I will get to shortly. Personally this is a side to Laurence Fishburne’s acting credentials I haven’t seen a lot of and I would certainly like to see more.

Bryan Cranston just continues to impress with his diversity in his choices as an actor. Here he plays former Marines Sal Nealon who now runs a bar and obviously likes a drink into the bargain. His first meeting with “Doc” shows the audience that although a little hazy remembers the War and his friends. Sal is the total opposite of Richard in this sense. He doesn’t forget and doesn’t appear to want to forget his past, but not in a nostalgic way but remembering the friendships during the conflict remains in his mind. Cranston and Fishburne together in every scene is a joy to behold. Both actors play off each other as if they have been friends for a long time and their characters bring out the best and worst in each other. The change in Richard from when we first see him and when Sal gets under his skin is very funny and gives you an idea on how these men would have had to cope in the extreme situation they found themselves in 30 years prior. This is what this movie is about.

Director Richard Linklater again shows his diversity in his film making. I know him best for the comedy starring Jack Black “School of Rock” and the odd but enjoyable animated movie “A Scanner Darkly” so it was interesting to see how he would handle a drama about relationships and keep the audience interested in what is a simple plot. Thankfully character development and putting the story out on the road manages to keep you watching and thanks to a very good script will have you pulled through an emotional wringer. Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell all perform brilliantly and I’m glad all three of them were cast in their roles. The Cinematography by Shane F. Kelly is also nice as the movie is filmed in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the most of the scenery is a nice to look at.

Overall Last Flag Flying is a great relationship drama. I think calling it a “Buddy Movie” would be a disservice to the film as it deals with a rack of emotions and situations that doesn’t appear to be forced at any point. The film flows naturally thanks to Linklater’s direction and the casting helps the characters develop and connect with the audience. The movie appears to have gone under the radar being released in between the big blockbuster releases of The Justice League and The Last Jedi but thankfully is doing the rounds at local Film Festivals. I would recommend giving “Last Flag Flying” a viewing as it is an enjoyable film to watch from a technical point of view, a performance point of view and from a storytelling point of view. Highly Recommend.

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