Last Flag Flying
Out Now On-Demand
Academy Award nominees Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne are reunited Vietnam War veterans in this comedy drama from Richard Linklater (Boyhood). A sequel to Hal Ashby's The Last Detail from 1972.
In 2003, 30 years after they served together in the Vietnam War, former Navy Corps medic Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Carell) re-unites with ex-Marine Sal Nealon (Cranston) and Reverend Richard Mueller (Fishburne) on a different type of mission: to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Doc decides to forgo 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. Along the way, Doc, Sal and Mueller reminisce and come to terms with shared memories of the war that continues to shape their lives.
Rating: M Offensive language & sexual references
Last Flag Flying is at once burdened and enriched by the past. Richard Linklater’s film sets itself a tall order, attempting to evoke the “spirit” of The Last Detail, Hal Ashby’s gritty jewel of ‘70s American cinema. Not only is The Last Detail among Ashby’s best-loved films, but also a key work in the Vietnam War-disillusioned “New Hollywood” movement and home to one of Jack Nicholson’s most spellbinding performances. It’s like following up Chinatown years later with The Two Jakes: there’s merit in the endeavour but the result generally plays like a faint echo of what once was.
In essence, Last Flag Flying works just fine as a poignant story about a grieving father burying his son. There’s enough pathos here to latch on to, especially for those unfamiliar with its source inspiration. Knowledge of The Last Detail, however, invites a little bit of cognitive dissonance: we see shades of the original characters that deepen the current ones but also distract for the fact that we aren’t technically in the former’s company.
Of the three leads, Bryan Cranston tries too hard to out-perform Nicholson’s Buddusky, while Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne find more measured notes to characterise their quasi-versions of Meadows and Mulhall.
Last Flag Flying might be more likeable a road movie than it is an anti-war statement. There are bittersweet pleasures in watching the camaraderie of these ex-Marines as they reminisce and reconnect. But when it’s time to confront the ethical and moral conundrums of war, the film has a tendency to overstate its themes, something also reflected in the broader, almost farcical detours it takes.
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RogerEbert.com (Brian Tallerico)
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