I saw Richard Linklater’s “Last Flag Flying” at the New York Film Festival, and I found it to be enormously entertaining.
I’m told it is a spiritual sequel to the 1973 film “The Last Detail,” which starred Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid, and Otis Young, and they are both based on books by the same man Darryl Ponicsan. This is pretty much in the same vein as Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” and “Everybody Wants Some.”
Set in 2003, Steve Carell (recently in “Battle of the Sexes”) stars as Larry “Doc” Shepard a former Navy, who served in the Vietnam War, and has learned that his son has died while serving in Baghdad. He arrives at a bar, run by Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), who served in the war with him; and they both head over to a church run by Pastor Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), another vet they served with. Larry wants them to come to Dover for his son’s funeral.
Larry wants to bury his son in his town in Portsmouth, NH, despite the Corp. saying he deserves to be buried at Arlington. So, Sal and Mueller join him on his travels. Throughout the movie, they all regret goofing off on a mission, which lead to the death of another soldier, and Sal and Mueller argue and make wisecracks about the choices they’ve made ever since.
I took a while for me to read the characters and their personas in “Last Flag Flying,” but I still managed to find the laughs, heart, and potential in them. Carell gives a delicate “Little Miss Sunshine” performance, Cranston’s brilliant as an alcoholic, who’s more we’ll-meaning than he acts, and Fishburne nails it as the party animal-turned-pastor.
The cast also features J. Quinton Johnson (“Everybody Wants Some”) as a young soldier, who served with Larry’s son and knew how he died; Yul Vázquez (“Captain Phillips”) as a Col. who disagrees with Larry’s decision of where to bury his son; and Cicely Tyson cameos as the mother of the soldier the three vets accidentally got killed. Some fresh acting I see here and there.
The movie also manages to find the balance between laughs and drama without being insulting. And even if some jokes are insulting, you’re still laughing at them. And you’re also touched, even when the credits start to roll. You really care what’s going on.
I might change my rating of this movie, based on time and Oscar buzz, but still, “Last Flag Flying” is another fresh entry from Richard Linklater.
Opens in select cities November 3.