Last Flag Flying: A Lackluster Road Film
Review by Aaron Haughton
Richard Linklater's latest effort, Last Flag Flying, is a somber twist to the road film that comes across a little flat and too forced. It's not without its moments, but unfortunately they're spread pretty thin, and as far as Linklater films go, this one just doesn't stack up, especially in the context of the quality of films we've seen so far this year.
Set in 2003, the film centers around Richard "Doc" Shepherd (played by Steve Carell), a former Navy Corps medic who reunites with his former Vietnam comrades, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to bury Doc's son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq war. Opting to forgo the burial at Arlington Cemetary, Doc and company take the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. Along the way, the trio wax philosophical on their shared past and wrestle with the pangs of war, past and present.
The film is filled with the Linklaterisms most (if not all) of us have grown to love, but Last Flag marks a new turn toward a more mature direction for the filmmaker, and it's more slowly paced than his previous efforts. This very well may be the film were people start saying, "Man, Linklater is getting OLD..." It's not necessarily a bad thing (because he is pushing 60), but for a writer/director notorious for his youth-driven tales, this film may came as a bit of a shock to the system. If you go in expecting Boyhood or Everybody Wants Some!!, you'll be gravely disappointed.
In Linklater's defense, this type of turn is exactly the kind of thing that makes me admire him. I really respect that he's not afraid to venture outside of what's expected to do a film that's a passion project -- and Last Flag is definitely just that, having been in the works since 2005. However, it's a little disappointing that a film that's been in development for over a decade falls so short of the caliber of filmmaking that Linklater is capable of.
You would think that having guys like Cranston, Carell and Fishburne on screen together would result in one whooping good time, but their characters -- who don't feel completely dimensional or believable (a bizarre thing to have to say about a Linklater film) -- don't allow much room for that. Cranston delivers the most memorable performance of the lot, shining as the wildcard of the group and giving the film the majority of its vitality. A majority of the comedic moments stem from him and his wisecrack remarks, but some of the punches don't always land. Fishburne and Carell are the source of most the film's heart and humanity, but come off a bit constrained and at times sterile. All performances aren't terrible, but are far from the best from these three seasoned leading men.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of the film is that it's technically a sequel to Hal Ashby's 1973 film The Last Detail, both being adapted from the novels by Darryl Ponicsan (who also collaborated on the script with Linklater). Although, Linklater made the smart choice to change the character's names, allowing the film to function more as a standalone than a tried and true sequel. The Last Detail was nominated for several Academy Awards in '73, and while Linklater's film falls short from his previous achievements, it certainly is Oscar bait and may result in a few nominations.
Last Flag Flying is very much a Linklater film, but it ultimately lacks the kinetic energy and spirit that make a majority of his filmography sparkle. At the end of the day, it's a decent piece of filmmaking from a filmmaker who's proved that his capable of much, much more. The film releases on November 3rd, and I would encourage you to see it only if the trailer and synopsis intrigue you; otherwise, wait for it to hit streaming platforms or VOD.
Rating: 3 flag-covered caskets outta 5.
What do you think? Are you excited for this film? Do you feel like Linklater fell short of his mark with this one? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!