‘Last Flag Flying’ – Film Review

After two recent films tackling the experience of being very young (Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!), Richard Linklater turns his attention to the older and greyer. Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne are Sal, Larry and Richard, three men who long ago served together in the US Marines. They’re brought back together when Larry’s son, also a marine, is killed in action and Larry, a quiet, lonely man, asks two old friends to come with him to the funeral.

This is a very low-key, well-performed character piece. Plot is not at the fore. The three men just cross the country together, reminiscing about old times and how the world has changed and stayed just the same. It boils down, as many Linklater films do, to a series of conversations. Simple chats that turn into soul-bearing moments. While other cast pop in and out, it’s more often than not just Cranston, Carell and Fishburne shooting the breeze. As you’d imagine, they’re a very charming group to spend time with.

Carell is uncharacteristically muted, the most shy of the bunch and the least likely to crack a joke. Fishburne is an irascible old goat as Richard, who has found god since retiring from the marines and would like to leave his wilder self in the past. Cranston gets the showy role. Sal doesn’t take crap from anybody and views even the briefest silence as an opportunity to speak, his opinions on everything and nothing tumbling out of his mouth before his mind gets a change to shape them. He’d probably be annoying real life company, but he’s a very entertaining screen presence, dancing on the edge of going over the top.

In a story that’s treats death deliberately casually, showing how it’s both seismic and the most mundane thing in the world, Linklater is also trying to make comment on the confusion of being war heroes in wars that weren’t heroic, and the US’s strange relationship with the military. He sometimes gets in a muddle with that tricky balance, his points landing with unsure feet. It’s best enjoyed as just an eavesdrop on three funny old men who you’d always want to get one more drink with.

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