Richard Linklater is one of the most talented filmmakers working today. Both as a writer and director, he excels at dialogue heavy stories. When it comes to injecting comedy into a drama, he is masterful. This is why his three “Before” films make for one of my favorite trilogies of all time. Linklater delivers one again on his talents with “Last Flag Flying”, however I did find it to be a bit too somber and tedious at times.
Set in 2003, the story begins with Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd (Steve Carell) showing up at the bar of his old marine buddy Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston). They haven’t seen each other since they served together during the Vietnam War. Larry takes Sal to see another member of their unit, Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), who is now a reverend. There Larry informs Sal and Richard that not only did his wife pass away recently, but his son was killed in Iraq. His one request is that they accompany him to the funeral.
When Larry learns that his son didn’t die the way he was told, he refuses to let him be buried at Arlington and decides to bring him home to be buried next to his mother. This leads to one of the most emotional road trip movies I have ever seen.
Linklater’s gift for writing conversations still manages to amaze but that’s what most of “Last Flag Flying” feels like, a series of endless conversations. Still, the cast is so fantastic here that it’s nearly impossible not to be drawn into the arguments and the laughter, even when we learn that there is more to the history of these three men and they all have a pain they are dealing with. Although Cranston garners much of the attention, I will say that this is probably one of Carell’s best performances to date. The comedic actor has given us unique performances in the past few years with “Foxcatcher” and “Battle of the Sexes” but here we see real humanity and suffering. Fishburne is always pretty great no matter where he turns up, but these three actors together bring something wonderful to the screen.
“Last Flag Flying” runs about two hours and is very slowly paced. As much as I love Linklater, he has been known to drag things out, just like 2014’s “Boyhood”. If you like the cast, then I recommend you check this one out, just be prepared for this road trip to take its’ sweet time.
By: Marc Ferman