|Posted by Nick Spake on November 10, 2017 at 10:05 PM|
“Last Flag Flying” is kind of like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” meets “The Best Years of Our Lives.” That’s definitely an odd combination and there are times when Richard Linklater’s film runs the risk of being uneven. Thanks to his capable direction, a sharp script co-written by author Darryl Ponicsan, and three strong leads, though, everything balances out. Well, maybe not everything. We do get a few scenes that drag on for too long. Given how this movie could’ve misfired in so many different ways, however, it’s impressive that it manages to juggle comedy, drama, and patriotism at all.
The film is actually based on a novel by Ponicsan, which was actually a sequel to “The Last Detail,” which was actually adapted to the screen in 1973 with Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid, and Otis Young. The aforementioned trio of actors is nowhere to be in this unofficial follow-up of sorts, but their replacements light up the screen with chemistry. Steve Carell gives his most subdued performance since “Foxcatcher” as Larry “Doc” Shepherd. Bryan Cranston steals the film’s best lines as Sal Nealon while Laurence Fishburne is a pitch perfect straight man as Richard Mueller.
These men served together during Vietnam, but haven’t seen each other since then. In 2003, Doc looks up his unit after his son dies in Iraq. Sal and Richard agree to help their old friend through the ordeal, but sign on for more than they bargained for. Upon learning exactly how his son was killed, Doc decides that he doesn’t want him to have a military funeral. He’d rather burry him at home, meaning Sal and Richard must come along for the long haul.
At the beginning of “Last Flag Flying,” the characters might be complete strangers to the audience. As the narrative unfolds, though, the film starts to feel like reuniting with some good buddies. We really come to like each of these men, as if we’ve known them for years. This has a lot to do with the impeccable rapport between the actors, who work off each other wonderfully. Their dynamic ranges from hilarious to poignant and there’s never a second when you doubt their bond. Even if the story is light on plot, just listening to Doc, Sal, and Richard for two hours is interesting enough.
What prevents “Last Flag Flying” from being a truly great film about veterans is a killjoy colonel played by Yul Vazquez. This character is determined to give Doc’s son a military funeral, as if he’s property of the U.S. government. While not everyone in the military is perfect, this guy just sends the wrong message in a picture that otherwise avoids cheap shots and caricatures. His character arc doesn’t even have a real payoff and could’ve been removed altogether. Nevertheless, that’s just one bump in the road for a film that mostly does our troops justice.
Grade: 4 out of 5 Stars