With an outstanding lead trio and a surprising amount of laughs, Last Flag Flying is Richard Linklater's most crowd pleasing film in years.
Richard Linklater boasts a filmography that could draw the envy of any director on the planet. From his early days with Dazed and Confused, to his mainstream triumph with School of Rock, and more recently his awards success with Boyhood, he is a director who has maintained a certain standard throughout his career and has become one of cinema’s top auteurs in the process. A little over a year on from his last film, the critically acclaimed Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater is back with Last Flag Flying, a typically emotional, yet uplifting effort from the director.
Acting as a sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 film The Last Detail, Last Flag Flying tells the story of Steve Carell’s Larry “Doc” Shepherd who seeks to reconnect with his former Vietnam War Navy comrades Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) after the death of his son in the Iraq war, Larry reaches out to his former colleagues to get them to come with him for his son’s funeral. Set against the backdrop of the ongoing Iraq war, Linklater’s latest brings this era of American society and patriotism together with Larry, Sal and Mueller’s generation of ‘Nam vets and their disillusionment. This theme of patriotism and honour in war underpins the film, even if its exploration doesn’t quite go deep enough, and provides the groundwork for what is arguably Linklater’s most mature and adult film. Gone is the whimsical and carefree attitude of his past protagonists or the ruminations on love of his Bohemians, Last Flag Flying focuses on the characters’ paths in life and their justifications.
It is fortunate, then, that Last Flag Flying boasts a central trio all on top form, exhibiting phenomenal chemistry in the process. The camaraderie of Larry, Sal and Mueller instantly clicks, Carell, Cranston and Fishburne work together perfectly as the reunited acquaintances and their interactions overflow with warmth and humanity. Whilst Linklater’s script may not the most realistic or human that he has produced, his cast elevate the slightly restrictive material on offer. Carell is the nuanced of the three, he is subdued and reclusive in his delivery and his mannerisms as the grief-stricken Larry, Fishburne operates as the comforter, the wizened and loving friend whose “I’m too old for this shit” personality works a charm. But it is Cranston who steals the show. A blistering force of charisma, combining heart with bundles of charm, Cranston tears through scenes with such vigour that you honestly would not mind a two hour spin off of Sal managing his bar for an evening. The three play off of each other brilliantly, their time together is a joy to behold.
As mentioned, the script does leave a little to be desired, it fails to reach Linklater’s usual depths or pluck at the heartstrings as intensively as he has done in the past, the emotion is there but it fails to land as emphatically as it could. But where it may lack in extensive depth, it makes up for in humour. Last Flag Flying is deceptively funny, with numerous jokes and spars that each resonate completely. This ultimately creates a film that is as uplifting and fun as it is emotional, it requires a deft touch to balance this and Linklater is the perfect man to pull this off.
Last Flag Flying may not be Linklater’s best, but when his best is arguably cinema perfection then it is hard to reach such a bar. It is certainely still a rousing picture. Easily his most accessible and crowd-pleasing film since School of Rock, Last Flag Flying delivers terrific performances, electric chemistry and a surprisingly high and impactful number of laughs.
Last Flag Flying (2017), directed by Richard Linklater, is showing as part of the 2017 BFI London Film Festival, further information can be found here.