LFF Review: Linklater's 'Last Flag Flying' Has a Few Nice Conversations
by Alex Billington
October 22, 2017
Trust in Richard Linklater. Like any great filmmaker, no matter what story he decides to tell, or whatever film he wants to make, it'll almost always be good. I will full well admit that I had low expectations for this film before going in to see it, I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe I just didn't want to see another film about American soldiers (there have been so many recently), or veterans complaining about how things are, or the American flag. Whatever it was, I was wrong. Linklater's Last Flag Flying is an impressively level-headed, intelligent film with some nice, heartwarming conversations amongst good friends. It's a buddy film about three aging veterans who go on a roadtrip around America, reminiscing about their pasts and catching up.
Last Flag Flying introduces us first to Larry 'Doc' Shepherd, played by Steve Carell, who decides to go find his old marine friends from the Vietnam War because his son was killed in the Middle East and he doesn't have anyone to talk with anymore. He first recruits alcoholic Sal Nealon, played by Bryan Cranston, and together they convince the now-Reverend Richard Mueller, played by Laurence Fishburne, to join them on this journey. The plan is to drive to one of the military bases to collect Larry's son's body, and then drive it to the cemetery to be buried. Along the way they have conversations and revelations that help them make sense of the modern world and figure out what purpose each of them provides in this crazy world we live in.
Quite remarkably, Last Flag Flying is simultaneously an anti-military and pro-military movie. It is not so much about the flag, as it is the importance of the flag within the context of the military - a soldier gives his life to fight for his country and the flag is the symbol of his commitment to that fight, to his home. It's here where Linklater always excels, in crafting incredibly smart, very natural dialogue that both condemns and supports various topics. These are how discussions happen in real life - the pros & cons are debated, various truths are revealed. There is no one conclusion they reach, but there are moments that make you wonder. Here are three soldiers saying today's wars are bad and the government is lying, but they also fought in a worthless war as well, they went through it. You can't argue with them, and that's the elegance of this script.
It seems as if Linklater is attempting to bring both sides of America together for a discussion, a sensible one where you're trapped in a car (or train) with others you don't agree with. And yet no one is going to resort to violence or personal attacks, because in this situation, fighting together in a war was enough of a hell that no one needs to drag anyone through that again. Instead, their years apart and histories together have allowed them gain some wisdom, even if it's a bit crass or awkward, at least they all bring something to the table. Like every great Richard Linklater film, you watch them for the conversations, for the intricate dialogue, to listen to what they say in our attempt to learn. And that is the case again here, with plenty of intriguing discussion about America past and present. It doesn't change much, unfortunately, but it is still nice to see.
Best of all, the performances are top notch. Once again, trust in Linklater. Even though he's working with three very experienced actors, he makes them feel fresh again with three characters that are honest and yet quintessential (from American society). Cranston stands out as the loud-mouth drunkard, staying perfectly in character every single moment. Even Fishburne is impressive as the Reverend, who may be quiet now but once was a different man, and let's that slip out a few times. Carell is subdued but also makes an impression with his repressed emotions. There's also an excellent performance by J. Quinton Johnson as a soldier sent to accompany the men on the last leg of their trip. It runs a bit long, but overall a worthwhile journey.
Alex's London 2017 Rating: 7.5 out of 10
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