Three actors with plenty of great performances under their belt come together for a road movie that’s not perfect, but definitely enjoyable in “Last Flag Flying.”
The story is told from the perspective of Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd (Steve Carell), a former member of the U.S. Navy whose son is killed while serving as a Marine in Iraq. Taking place in 2003, early in the Iraq War, Doc is traveling to meet with military officials to see his son’s casket and make burial arrangements.
On the way there, though, Doc decides to reunite with his friends from the Vietnam War for support. Those two friends include a bar owner named Sal (Bryan Cranston) and the Rev. Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). Together the three eventually meet with officials and make an arrangement to bury Doc’s son in his hometown in New Hampshire, rather than at Arlington Cemetery.
“Last Flag Flying” crosses a few genres from start to finish, ranging from reunion comedy to post-war drama to a simple classic road trip, and all of them work fairly well together. The latter of those three, for example, is enjoyable in that we see Sal, Doc and Mueller getting to experience small town America and big cities, allowing themselves to speak with each other about the state of the world and reflect on how things have changed.
This, ultimately connects and coincides with the post-war drama side of the picture. All three of the lead characters served during Vietnam, and it’s quite interesting watching them discuss and compare that war with the one that was waged in Iraq.
What brings everything together, though, is the humor that comes from the reunion of these three. Sal is of course quite crass considering he operates a bar while Mueller is now a by-the-books man of faith and Doc is somewhat in the middle. That balance between the three does the film a lot of favors, as the banter going back and forth with them is funny and makes the friendships feel believable.
Part of what makes this work is the script, which was written by Richard Linklater who also directs. Linklater is often on point with his writing and “Last Flag Flying” is no different. There is a definite tight rope the film has to walk in that it does feature comedic moments while also having very heavy subject matter, and Linklater pulls this off with a realistic screenplay that explores old friendships and dealing with grief.
Just as important to this aspect were the performances from Cranston, Fishburne and Carell. All three of them do fantastic work, especially Carell who gives an honest portrayal of someone going through grief and mourning. It also helps that the three had tremendous on screen chemistry with each other.
While the movie deserves a lot praise, though, there’s one issue that really detracted from it, and that was the run time. The film goes on way too long, clocking in at over two hours. The film could’ve slashed about 20 to 25 minutes from the run time and it would’ve been a much stronger feature.
Additionally, the timing of the film seems a little late. Considering real world events, “Last Flag Flying” would probably have had a much bigger impact had it been released 12 to 13 years ago.
Overall, though, the film does have a lot going for it in its characters, thanks to a fairly strong script and good acting. Not one of the year’s best, but certainly a commendable effort from the cast and crew. 4.4 out of 5.