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Written By:

Peter Turner
Last Flag Flying

Richard Linklater delivers his most mature film to date in Last Flag Flaying, starring a trio of acting heavyweights; Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell and Laurence Fishburne. After offering some of the greatest films about boyhood, high school parties, college days and finding young love while travelling, Last Flag Flying sees the director on melancholic form with a film about war, death and growing old (not so) gracefully.

Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd (Steve Carrell) kick-starts the plot by rocking up at his old ‘Nam’ buddy Sal’s (Bryan Cranston) bar and asking him to come with him on a journey. Hitting the road and turning up at a church, they find their other old friend Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) who has swapped his marine uniform for a preacher’s collar. The reason for the reunion? Doc reveals he has sought out the friends he hasn’t seen since ‘Nam because his own grown son is now being returned to him from Baghdad in a coffin. Doc asks his old friends to help him bury his boy and the three begin a road trip to transport the coffin across the country.

Set in 2003, with President George W. Bush still on the television and Saddam’s capture dominating the news headlines, Last Flag Flying has its protagonists dealing with new technologies, new wars and a whole host of issues that they say ‘sound familiar’ from their own past in the Marine Corps. While watching these veterans come to terms with mobile phones, Eminem, and reality television provides plenty of laughs, tragedy cuts through Last Flag Flying like the train they end up travelling on cuts through America.

Don’t go in expecting the Steve Carrell of the 40 Year Old Virgin. Carrell is firmly in the role of the straight man here; his face etched in misery, his shy retiring character completely dominated by the angel and devil on his shoulders. All the characters are plagued by guilt but Cranston has the most fun with Sal being the constant drinker of the group and the chaos to Fishburne’s pious, calming alternative. Their banter goes back and forth throughout, with Fishburne revealing obvious depth to his character and Cranston’s Sal patently hiding his own demons beneath the wisecracks.

And even though Last Flag Flying is consistently funny, it’s in its mournful moments that it has the most impact. When the men wax lyrical about the war they went through, and the war that has now brought them together, the film strikes a brilliant balance between its criticisms of the politics that fuel America’s wars and its respect for the men who fight them. Pregnant with emotion and loaded with some great lines, it’s easy to see why the script attracted such a fine cast.

Frequently funny but with an undercurrent of raw sadness, Last Flag Flying reminds again just how great a filmmaker Linklater is, and shows that he has an exciting career ahead documenting the years beyond the joys of youth.


Expected Rating: 8

Actual Rating:

Peter Turner

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