After summer months of superheroes, minions, and talking animals, I often find myself yearning for human stories from the cinema by autumn. Thankfully, directors like Richard Linklater step up to the camera and provide us with such films on a regular basis. I loved his recent entries Before Midnight, Boyhood, and Everybody Wants Some. These films allow us to spend time with humans, walk in their shoes, and become better for the experience. Linklater’s latest entry, Last Flag Flying, while not quite as strong, continues this tradition and is a beautiful depiction of male friendship in America.
Last Flag Flying is billed as an ‘unofficial sequel’ to the film The Last Detail with Jack Nicholson. Set in 2003, the film follows three Vietnam War veterans played by Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, and Laurence Fishburne; Cicely Tyson also has a lovely small role as the mother of one of their marine corps friends. These three men haven’t spoken since the war but are reunited when Carell’s son is killed in the war in Iraq, brought together because Carell purposely seeks them out. Evidently, he doesn’t have anyone else to assist him with this difficult task or, at least, it is never really explained why they lost touch or why he needed them in particular.
At first, they are planning to go to Arlington, and then events take them all up to Delaware and further. All along the way, the men talk about war, faith (Fishburne plays a minister), women, raising kids, and everything else. This is where the movie shines, as expected. The three actors have wonderful chemistry and Richard Linklater is a master at realistic dialogue. It felt emotionally true to the way men deal with friendship and support one another in these difficult circumstances – especially men who are not used to supporting each other.
We also see J. Quinton Johnson as a young marine, an honest voice of the government, who knew Carell’s son. The rest of the military is painting a glossy picture of heroism but he is willing to tell the truth to a grieving father.
Some viewers become frustrated with Linklater’s thin plots and consequently may actually find that Last Flag Flying has more structure, and therefore is more satisfying. However, I felt the film grew a little repetitive at times with the men learning the same lessons over and over again. Also, Bryan Cranston’s character bordered on caricature at times, and his ‘tough guy’ persona got a little old.
In spite of that, there is much to like in Last Flag Flying. The ending particularly worked well and had me tearing up. I also appreciate that it is not an anti-war or pro-nationalism film, but is instead focused on these three men and their friendship, and that is definitely worth watching.
Overall Grade: B