Basically: A Linklater film that’s not about slackers who need to grow up but about grown-up adults dealing with loss and regrets.
Richard Linklater is a pretty varied filmmaker. A Scanner Darkly is completely different than Boyhood and both of those are a universe apart from the Before trilogy. And now Last Flag Flying is different from those. Adapted from a novel of the same name, Last Flag Flying follows three Vietnam veterans who reconnect in 2003 after one, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) seeks the other two out to help him reclaim the remains of his son, who died while serving in Iraq. Not having seen each other in 30 years, Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard (Laurence Fishburne) have changed from the way they remember each other. What is pitched as a short trip becomes a long road trip, where they rediscover each other, discuss aging, and dig into their perspectives on serving in the war.
What Last Flag Flying does well, like a lot of Linklater films, is the conversations between characters; they feel natural and not performed. The chemistry between Cranston, Fishburn, and Carrell plays like they’ve been in films together for many years. The actors in all the roles are able to deftly hop between dramatic points and comedic points that don’t feel telegraphed at all. The story has the characters compare the similarities between the Vietnam War and the war on terror. While for us it’s a continuing event, the characters in the early 2000s have only experienced it for two years. This adds heft to the film—set in the past, the characters and viewpoints sound like they’re coming from today but with the 20/20 hindsight.
There’s not a lot to talk about in terms of flash or creative filmmaking or music choices. It’s all pretty subdued, allowing the performances to take the lead. Also, there is a lot of care in showing the military and how it handles fallen soldiers and interactions with their families. There is a major thread of the film that deals with what the military decides to tell the family of the fallen compared to what actually happens. A lot of the dramatic plot action deals with the fallout of that. I didn’t know what to expect from Last Flag Flying but it’s a really great film that hopefully won’t be lost in the all the big releases this fall.
In The End: A great old man bonding drama that doesn’t feel like grumpy old men the vet version.