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Review: Last Flag Flying

Last Flag Flying
8 10

PLOT: After the death of a his son in the Iraq war, a Vietnam veteran enlists his old friends to bring his boy to a proper, final resting place.

REVIEW: Richard Linklater has the knack for painting vivid and honest portraits of his cinematic subjects. Whether it’s a couple of strangers who fall in love while spending time abroad or a young boy growing up in a scary world, it is a nice place for an audience to visit. With his latest, the filmmaker takes on something a bit more tragic, yet it still offers up a nuanced character study with heart and compassion. It features an incredible cast, one that includes Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston. Even more importantly, it examines this serious subject in an effectively small and intimate way. Based on the novel by Darryl Ponicsan, this is a surprising and heartfelt story that never feels forced and disingenuous.

Steve Carell plays Larry “Doc” Shepherd, a reserved widower who makes a surprise visit to his old buddy, Sal Nealon (Cranston). The two find a bit of solace in the reunion and soon make their way to see Reverend Richard Mueller (Fishburne). Once the three are together, Larry reveals his reasons for seeking his old friends out. Not only has he lost his wife less than a year before, but his son was killed in combat while serving the Marines in Iraq. Larry asks his old pals to join him on a trip to bury his hero son. Sadly, they soon realize that there is more to the story than Doc has been told, leaving the men to do anything in their power to give his son a proper and appropriate burial.

last flag flying richard linklater steve carell laurence fishburne bryan cranston iraq vietnam war 2017

The idea of a father taking his deceased son and accompanying his remains on a somber yet wonderfully inspired road trip could have been a disaster. Thankfully Linklater manages to bring enough humor and genuine heart to the subject matter. It also helps that his three leads work especially well together. The journey they are on would certainly be an emotional rollercoaster, but the writer and director - Linkater co-wrote the script with Ponicsan - is able to bring many levels to this very human story. One scene involving the boys deciding to purchase a cell phone is especially charming - the film takes place in 2003 so mobile phones back then certainly weren't what they are today.

As menionted, this is a phenomenal cast. While Carell, Fishburne and Cranston are all terrific, it is Carell that really impressed me. Portraying a father who has lost both his wife and son in less than a year, the actor brings a sadness that permeates throughout as he must deal with such a great loss. Yet there is so much more that Mr. Carell brings to Doc. The moments of joy, reflection and his own desperate need to do right by his son, it all resonates beautifully. Carell gives an astounding and especially touching performance that feels absolutely real. As much as I’ve enjoyed his work in the past, this will certainly rank as one of his best roles.

last flag flying richard linklater steve carell bryan cranston laurence fishburne iraq vietnam war 2017

Another nice surprise is the inclusion of a young Marine (J. Quinton Johnson) assigned to accompany the body with the three gentlemen. He plays an important part in the plot of the film as well. Linklater has real talent for finding the right fit in his films, and this is certainly no exception. And while this seemingly is a simple story about a man trying to bury his son, it is also  an interesting look at being a soldier today, as well as those who faced Vietnam. Who has the right to tell a parent where and how their child will be buried after losing their life in a war? The answers in the film are personal for Doc, and not an absolute. It is his story. Right or wrong, it is his undying love for his boy that moves him forward.

Richard LInklater has made a small and personal story that connected heavily with this viewer. The filmmaker offers a complex and perhaps controversial subject with a strong and subtle assuredness. LAST FLAG FLYING is a graceful story and it is a fascinating way to talk about the war and how our vets are treated. It also features a near perfect cast that brings the material to life. Occasionally the dialogue and story can feel a bit repetitive, but it works most of the time. While this may not find the success and acclaim of BOYHOOD, it is still the work of a modern day storyteller who smartly puts character and heart first. If you are a fan of Mr. Linklater, you will likely find much to admire in Sal, Richard and Doc’s heartbreakingly humorous adventure.

Source: JoBlo.com

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