Last Flag Flying: Film Review
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell
Director: Richard Linklater
Director Richard Linklater's latest sprawling work has hints of humanity and approaches tragedy in a slightly different manner.
But at times, the well-meaning falls into the ham-fisted as he leaves some of his desires feeling over-wrought.
It's 2003, and Steve Carell's moustachioed and muted former medic, Larry "Doc" Shepherd, enlists two of his former platoon, Sal (a nihilistic Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Fishburne, restrained) to help bury his son who has been killed in Iraq.
However, as the trio reunite, old tensions resurface, and struggles of the past threaten to overwhelm the emotional reason they've come together.
Steeped in melancholy, and overly long, Last Flag Flying has a lot of "actoring" going from its protagonists as they tread the occasionally predictable road-trip route.
Sal treats everything with alcohol, leading to Cranston bringing the energy and the agony to the piece as his opposed-to-the-military character treads a familiar arc; Fishburne's now-turned-preacher Mueller seems to forego a lot of his beliefs as he reunites with his past, and Carell does little except mope throughout, weirdly imbuing his Doc with a sense of grief that's palpably delivered, even though hardly anything is said. Ultimately, their relationship seems to be one of the Sal's Devil and Mueller's Angel on Doc's shoulders, but it foregoes this conflict for more obvious routes, which disappoints.
In between the meandering diversions, Linklater overplays some of his hand as the roadtrip progresses.
Repeated hectoring of the fact it's 2003 and over-use of some of the anachronisms of the time (no internet, mobile phones first coming in) threaten to overwhelm the film and drown the bittersweet with a sense of catchphrases and irritations.
But in the more silent moments, when Linklater hints at the futility of the death of those in combat incidents that are not directly war-related and in the moments where the army's vehement denial of anything other than dogma is laid bare, Last Flag Flying has a heft that finds a different and satisfying way to tell an overly familiar tale.
Shaggy and free-wheeling it may be, and this may totally test your cinematic patience as the collective gulfs are dealt with, but somehow parts of Last Flag Flying commit to a veracity that's worthy of investment.
Its end feels rushed, and the emotional pay-off is not quite as strong as it should be, but the sombre tone gives Last Flag Flying a truth that's hard to deny and an under-cooked commitment to showing what war does these days. It's a subtle salute to the Armed Forces, but its predilection with tropes and familiarity can't help but swathe the lead trio's commitment to their characters with a sheen that's at times, stifling.