Last Flag Flying

By: Jessica Goddard

Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying is a touching, exquisitely-performed road trip drama, full of insight and engaging questions for the modern era.  This is a movie that never stops breaking your heart, while it keeps you guessing at all the right moments.  It’s both patriotic and skeptical;  somehow inspiring and disillusioning.

It’s 2003, and Sal (Bryan Cranston), Richard or “Mueller” (Laurence Fishburne), and Larry or “Doc” (Steve Carell) are Vietnam war veterans who have all separately settled in tiny East Coast communities and grown into very different people.  After Larry’s son, Larry Jr., is killed in Iraq, he goes out on a limb to ask these men he hasn’t spoken to in decades to accompany him to Arlington National Cemetery to bury his only child.  After a heartbreaking twist, the film takes its time becoming what it really is – a somber road trip, which acts as a catalyst for discussions of unresolved trauma.

Linklater is able to handle this deeply affecting subject matter with such delicacy and grace that fortunately it never tips into melodrama.  And other than for how many things happen and how much resistance these characters seem to encounter on their relatively straightforward mission, all of it feels tragically real and probable.

Cranston, Fishburne, and Carell are naturally excellent in this movie.  The screenplay they’re given obviously plays towards a sort of “odd couple” dynamic, with three older men.  There are moments when their extreme differences feel “a bit much”, but for the most part, all three are fully fleshed out and precise.  This doesn’t mean there’s any sense we have them all figured out by the end, or that we necessarily know everything we’d like to know about them, but we certainly connect with the trio enough to wonder how things turn out for them and sincerely wish them the best.  The script is also pleasantly aware of its setting’s positioning in time and history.  The references to early 2000s pop culture and the nature of a changing America post-9/11 are welcome reflections on a period of time not extensively explored by many artists as of yet.

Last Flag Flying wants you to think, wants you to feel, and succeeds in making you do both without the exposure to graphic violence war movies have come to call to mind.


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