By Ryen Thomas
November 25, 2017
With Last Flag Flying, Director Richard Linklater essentially delivers a quietly moving, bittersweet and surprisingly hilarious war film. It’s the kind of film that examines the nature of war from the hearts and minds of veterans who fought for and love our country.
It’s 2003, 30 years after our three veterans served together in the Vietnam War. Former Navy Corps medic, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carrell) rekindles his friendship with former Marines, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne).
Together again, they’re on a mission that doesn’t take place in a foreign land or the trenches. It’s one that takes place on the road in America towards the burial of Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in a new war, Desert Storm.
This story isn’t about a grand plot but about unlikely relationships that the camera helps us to intimately explore. Each conversation serves to provide more information about how the trio first came together, how they fell apart and why this is a crucial time for them to be together again when Doc needs them most.
The three leads have played some larger than life characters during their run, and often you can’t separate their real personalities from the characters they play. But in Last Flag Flying, they go against their type. In his role, Carrell is lost in quietness; he manages to balance a turbulent inner life with the Introverted and humble outer life he allows the world to see. On Breaking Bad Cranston played a similar mild mannered and troubled character, but as a Sal, he’s charismatic and in your face. He’s a man child full of worldly wisdom and there’s hilarity when he conflicts with Fishburne’s born again, Reverend Mueller.
Throughout the whole movie, Doc has to make a series of challenging decisions and Sal and Mueller serve as the devil and angel on his shoulder. For them, everything is a debate on ethics and philosophy. The subjects are heavy, but their past commonality allow the characters to mix in humor before the topic dives too deep. It’s those lighter moments that make it feel like we’re hanging out with old friends.
Because our leads are veterans who truly love to serve their country, their first person insight provides the kind of thoughtful analysis that’s sincere and personal. There’s no cynicism when their conversations challenge the integrity of their country, leaders and each other. Last Flag Flying becomes truly about how those challenges create a unique bond that can’t be broken by the changes life can bring.
The characters had to share each other’s burdens in youth and it’s extremely moving to watch them overcome their differences in their elder years. By the end of this beautiful, pitch perfect film, the lesson unfolds: “Love thy neighbor.”
Star Rating: 5 out of 5