Last Flag Flying
Review by Paul Preston
It’s time to once again rejoice in simplicity as Richard Linklater has released a new film! Linklater is one of the few filmmakers out there that revels in small, human moments and his movies are all the better for it when we sit down to watch.
That being said, it’s tough to pass off the director of a movie that takes place in real time (Tape), another film series whose sequels span eighteen years in the life of two characters (Before Sunrise and its sequels) and another pair of movies whose actors were layered over with animation (Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly) as SIMPLE. Oh, and he made another film that took twelve years to shoot, chronicling a young boy’s growth into college age (Boyhood). But, even within some of the most daring templates for an indie drama, it’s Linklater’s cozying up to simplicity that wins every time.
Last Flag Flying is Linklater’s newest film, and I write about it now to sing its praises in the wake of a general shut-out in the early awards. Criminal! I found this movie funny and moving, anchored in the expected solid work of three quality actors – Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne. Carell plays a Vietnam vet in 2003 whose son has just died fighting for the military in The Middle East. Carell approaches two of his fellow soldiers from ‘nam to assist him in giving his boy a proper burial. Cranston and Fishburne play the wildly disparate twosome who join Carell on what essentially from there on is a road trip movie.
It’s not a perfect movie, there are comedy bits centered around the first time that any of these guys have used a cell phone that don’t entirely hit and the trio does lapse into some Planes, Trains and Automobiles-type plot points that put a hiccup in their travel plans. These moments don’t stand as tall as the rest of the film because they feel overdone. What’s fresh is the relationships, fluctuating from heartbreak to hilarity in a flash, deftly steered by the talented cast. Cranston is especially entertaining as a broad, comic character whose kneejerk instinct is often the right course of action for his friends. Fishburne is his pious counter, a priest balancing godly behavior with raw emotion. Carell has a history of playing sad characters well, in movies like Little Miss Sunshine or even lesser movies like Dan in Real Life. Even Foxcatcher’s unstable John du Pont essentially harbors a tragic sadness. He underplays his sadness to great effect here, you sense his pain and his risk to handle his son’s affairs the way he wants to.
As I’ve said and pointed out many times in the reviews and articles of TheMovieGuys.net, the ending of a film can color your take on the whole movie. I thought The Big Sick (just as a random example from this year) was good, but the very end was manufactured more than earned. The ending of Last Flag Flying is everything and the best of any film I’ve seen this year. I can’t deny the impact it had on me, sobbing through the end credits and trying to compose myself for a Q&A with the filmmakers, and failing. Carell’s journey ends on a highly emotional note and Linklater finds the right tone to deliver it. Simply.
Last Flag Flying is still out there in theaters, but I with a lack of awards nomination love, I imagine it’s not long for that world. Make the trek to see it, I mean, c’mon, you already love these actors.
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Release Date: November 3, 2017
Run Time: 125 Minutes
Distributor: Amazon Studios