Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, J. Quinton Johnson
A new Richard Linklater film is always something to take notice of. Over the years he’s proven himself to be one of the most interesting directors working in Hollywood and he’s shown that he’s able to effectively work in all sorts of different genres, including animation. You just have to take one glance at his back catalogue to understand that fact.
He’s given us films like Dazed and Confused, the Before trilogy (Before Sunshine, Before Sunset and Before Midnight), School of Rock, A Scanner Darkly and Boyhood. All these films are quite different from one another but one theme remains constant throughout Linklater’s work. He likes to focus on human interactions. He likes to tell stories about real human beings and he’s done so to great effect yet again with his latest movie, Last Flag Flying.
Every generation has their war. Men make the wars and wars make the men. It never ends!
Set in 2003, Steve Carrell plays Larry “Doc” Shepherd, a veteran from the Vietnam war. Doc tracks down two of his old army buddies that he served with during the war, Bryan Cranston’s Sal Nealon, who now owns a bar yet doesn’t do much with it, and Laurence Fishburn’s Richard Mueller, who’s now a reverend despite the fact that he used to be quite a handful during his army days.
Doc wants the two of them to accompany him to his son’s funeral who’s recently been killed in Iraq and what ensues is a road movie in which the three of them come to terms with their past and rediscover themselves along the way all whilst trying to get Doc’s son back home so that he can be buried next to his mother who’s also sadly deceased.
We are going to a funeral. Just looks like it’s going to take a little longer to get there.
That plot synopsis makes Linklater’s Last Flag Flying sound incredibly depressing, and it certainly is in places. However, Linklater has an uncanny ability to find the moments of levity even during the saddest of times. Doc’s story is utterly heartbreaking and it’s made even more so by Carrell’s perfectly nuanced performance. That said, I did find myself laughing as well as welling up and that’s the sign of some truly masterful writing, directing and acting.
At the heart of this movie are three brilliant performances from Carrell, Cranston, and Fishburn. They work seamlessly together on-screen and all demonstrate that they are veterans of the craft. If I were to say one negative thing about the performances it would be that Fishburn’s Reverend Mueller does sound a bit clichèd at times yet it’s part of the character and just makes the moments when he slides back into the profanity-spouting Mueller of old even more hilarious.
I’m not going to bury a marine. I’m just going to bury my son.
Like many of Linklater’s movie, Last Flag Flying is very stripped back visually. That’s not to say that it’s a dull movie to look at. There are some very pretty shots. That said, visual flair isn’t what Last Flag Flying is all about. It’s all about its central characters and the (I hate to use this word) ‘journey’ they all go on together. This isn’t only about a father burying his boy, it’s also about three old friends coming together and learning more about themselves along the way. That’s what makes this film so special and why people should try and see it.