Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan
Starring: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, J. Quinton Johnson
Poignant but not preachy, Last Flag Flying compares one man's tragedy with a nation's tragedy, and dares to ask why either one of them had to happen.
Last Flag Flying is the tale of a Vietnam veteran transporting the body of his son across the U.S, helped in this by two of his old war buddies. It is a synopsis that would suggest a hard watch, and to some extent this what you will find - but it is an overwhelmingly positive film, a tragic centre cocooned in a warm exploration of friendship in the face of hardship.
Within its softness, Linklater's film asks difficult questions with even more difficult answers. Last Flag Flying is a keen but tactful examination of America's involvement in the Vietnam and the Iraq war, drawing on their parallel themes of coercion and duty, as well as exploring the impact of these wars on those who fought in them - broaching topics like religion, alcoholism and guilt. Carell, Cranston and Fishburne tale this tale perfectly, simultaneously embodying the unique camaraderie found between those who serve their country and each demonstrating their character's own way of coping with their individual trauma.
Last Flag Flying is brilliantly fluid. It possesses a wonderfully flowing narrative and an organic script, within which the horror and happiness of the story are delicately woven together, depicting the counter-intuitive concept that both can exist at the same time. Boyish humour comfortably shadows the tragedy, teasing a wry smile from the viewer. It refuses to spoon feed, offering nil exposition, surrendering its secrets slowly and deliberately, if at all. The film does consider turning into some sort of thriller at one point, but wisely rethinks that and redirects the focus back to where it needs to be, right alongside our three veterans.
Carell is fantastic as the devastated 'Doc' whose life has shattered around him, while Cranston is endlessly amusing as the foul-mouthed 'Sal', naturally bouncing off of Fishburne's more sensible preacher 'Mueller". It is a magnetic combination of talent. The chemistry between the three is enigmatic, their back-and-forth being the driving force for each scene, while their dysfunctional friendship is utterly convincing.
Overall, the film is a delightful watch, running effortlessly from scene to scene with a charming dialogue which can both amuse and harrow with ease. It is a soft but deliberate interrogation of a nation's enduring attitude to war, full of big personalities brought to life by extraordinary talent.
In one line: Devastating and heartwarming at the same time, Last Flag Flying tackles big issues on a small scale, with a stellar cast.