Last Flag Flying, B
Rated R, 124 minutes
The slow-moving yet well-acted and honest new dramedy "Last Flag Flying" from Oscar-nominee Richard Linklater of "Boyhood" fame is a compelling look at the affects of war on families. It features no combat or battle scenes, and doesn't need to, as its devastating effects are felt on each of the characters.
Thirty years after serving together in the Vietnam War, Larry "Doc" Shepherd (Steve Carrell), Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and the Rev. Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) reunite for a different type of mission: to bury Doc's son, a young Marine killed in Iraq. Forgoing burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Doc and his old buddies take the casket on a bittersweet trip up the coast to New Hampshire. Along the way, the three men find themselves reminiscing and coming to terms with the shared memories of a war that continues to shape their lives.
"Last Flag Flying" is directed by "Bernie's" Linklater and co-written by Linklater and Darryl Ponicscan, author of the book of the same name that the film is based on. "Last Flag Flying" is a de-facto, revisionist sequel to his book "The Last Detail," which was made in a 1973 classic film starring Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid. This film has many of the same characters, and works through the issues as the men reunite 30 years later after one of their son's is killed in Iraq.
Linklater's film is an anti-war character exposition, and highlights many of the issues facing families who have lost loved ones in battle. It's slow-moving and often becomes more of a buddy road-trip film, going on about 20 minutes longer than necessary, but there are some good moments provided by the A-list cast. All three leads are excellent, with Fishburne as the one in the trio who has changed most (it's nice seeing him as a minister, spouting some Bible verses and religious sayings); Cranston has the showier, funnier part as the sergeant who hasn't quite grown up, though it's Carrell who gives the film's best turn as the grieving dad who needs company to bring his deceased son home.
As the sullen, quiet Doc, Carrell shines in a subtle role who tells more with a sad look or glance than Cranston does with his talkier part. Carrell, cast against type here from his usual comedic roles, gives one of his best performances showing he has some range as an actor. Newcomer J. Quinton Johnson is also excellent as Doc's son's best friend, who helps shed light into what happened, and watch for veteran Cicely Tyson, who's touching in just a single scene as their friend's mother.
"Last Flag Flying," even though it goes through some unnecessary, rough patches (such as the men buying a cell phone or trying to rent a U Haul truck), is highlighted by the strong performances. It does best by steering clear of any overt political statements and focusing on its characters, which will stay with you after the film is over.