Serving as an unofficial sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 film, The Last Detail, director Richard Linklater’s latest offering, Last Flag Flying, tells the story of three Vietnam veterans brought together by tragedy.
Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carrell) reunites with his old Vietnam war buddies Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Muller (Laurence Fishburne) after the death of his son, killed on active Marine duty during the Iraq war.
Doc asks both men to attend his son’s funeral with himmafter revealing that he lost his wife to cancer a year ago. The two veterans reluctantly agree but soon find themselves accompanying the grieving father across the country when he decides that his son will not be buried in a military service at Arlington Cemetery, despite the military’s offer.
Set in 2003, the film has much to say about the Iraq War and America’s continuing trend of sending troops to fight in controversial conflicts on foreign soil, with reference to both Iraq and Vietnam, yet never fully committed to a decision on whether it will set its course on whether to concentrate on this or the dynamic of the veterans themselves. As the story progresses, all three men are forced to come to terms with their own time in conflict as well as Doc’s recent loss, yet are never really allowed to attain any conclusion, save for one scene where they attempt to right a wrong committed during their service.
Directed by the usually brilliant Richard Linklater (Boyhood) and starring a trio of stellar actors, with such a strong narrative, you’d expect this to be a powerful and thought provoking story.
Unfortunately what’s presented here is a rather tepid offering, a road trip which moves along at a fairly slow pace.
The actual premise is very intriguing and as expected, all three leads put in performances worthy of their stature when allowed to do so, yet what they are given doesn’t do anyone involved justice. The film struggles with its agenda of whether it wants to be a heart warming tale of friendship or a social commentary on war and fails to find the right balance between the two.
Cranston steals the top place amongst the three leads with his load-mouth, blustery, alcoholic but once again it appears that his film career has yet to find the same momentum as his television work. Again, this is not to knock his or any of the other lead performances, rather a reflection on what little ingredients they are provided with which to serve up anything other than an unfortunately bland dish.
The other two leads are actually left with little to do other than speak softly whilst gazing into the distance or shake their heads in disapproval of Sal. A few token scenes of drunken reminiscing aside, they both come across as rather meek and uninteresting, with no real conclusion to their journey, other than to attend the funeral. Unfortunately Last Flag Flying fails to soar and instead flaps around with little vigour and in spite of its strong cast and more than able director, is something of a disappointment.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 6/10
Last Flag Flying is released in the U.K. today.