Director Richard Linklater is a master of the human story built with rich dialogue and fascinating characters who come to life on the screen in films like Boyhood and Dazed and Confused. His new directorial effort Last Flag Flying definitely displays the directors verbal style even if at times you’ll wish there was a little less talking and more action. Taking place in 2003, the film focuses on Vietnam veteran Larry ‘Doc’ Shepard played by Steve Carell who has suffered two painful losses in a row. His wife has recently passed away and now his only son has been killed serving his country in Iraq. Alone and confused, Doc tracks down two former Marines he served with in Vietnam played by Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne. Doc asks his former friends to accompany him on trip to bury his son that is full of regret, reflection and a few laughs in an attempt to lighten the mood in Last Flag Flying.
The trio of Carell, Cranston and Fishburne display an amazing amount of chemistry as the former soldiers who haven’t seen each other in 30 years in Last Flag Flying. Bryan Cranston plays the loudmouth of the group portraying bar owner Sal Nealon who loves being the center of the universe. He’s rude, crude, but loyal to his buddies even if he can’t remember them at first when they show up to see him. Cranston’s obnoxious Sal plays well off of Fishburne’s Reverend Richard Mueller who is now a man of God leaving his wild soldier days behind him. The two former allies bicker at each other like an old married couple and are an entertaining duo to watch throughout Last Flag Flying.
Fishburne and Cranston have some solid moments throughout Last Flag Flying, but Steve Carell shines as the heartbroken father who doesn’t really know what to do next in his life. Carell delivers his most dramatic role to date in this film playing the quiet Doc who chooses to grieve over a road trip with his old pals who have now become strangers. It’s not a flashy role, but Carell gives an authentic performance as a man who has been broken by all the death that surrounds him. You feel just so bad for Doc even if you don’t agree with all the decisions and actions he is taking.
It’s a good thing Last Flag Flying is anchored by the strong acting work from Carell and company, because at times the film definitely drags and gets sidetracked. The road trip seems to never end spinning its wheels with side stories involving renting a truck and cell phones. Last Flag Flying could have benefited from a reduced running time, because there is no denying the movie feels too long. Luckily the acting and important story about grief and the truth helps Last Flag Flying overcome the repetitive storytelling that slows down the film.
Overall, I give Last Flag Flying 2.75 out of 4 stars.
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