LAST FLAG FLYING gets 7/10 In the details

Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne


Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Dazed and Confused) is arguably the most laid-back American filmmaker working today. That works mostly to his advantage and sometimes to his detriment. In this buddy road movie set in 2003, he crafts a fine study of three friends, where they have come from, and how their shared experience has shaped them in this era. As they traverse across America, by car, train, and hired van, each of them have their perception of America somewhat re-examined.

Bar owner Sal (Bryan Cranston) is an aged man who tries to hold onto his youthfulness, as he is unmarried, without a family, and feels free to stay up drinking at his own bar. He is paid a visit by his old Vietnam War comrade, Doc (Steve Carell), a timid and reserved fellow who soon reveals the immense tragedies of his life: he claims he wishes to travel to Virginia to bury his son who was killed in the Iraq War. They also enlist the help of their other comrade pal, Richard (Laurence Fishburne), whose composed Priest lifestyle seems like a far cry from his days in the army.

Linklater eases up on the conflict with the three buddies, and although a clichéd falling out or two would be expected from an inferior film, the three friends only become closer and closer to each other as their travels go on. Cranston is quite wild as the eccentric, individualistic and seemingly liberated joker of the pack, though his working-class philosophical back-and-forths with Richard show that there may be more freedom in a disciplined life. However, the charm in the film is that it opts for suggestions instead of messages, making it far and away a non didactic film.

Perhaps some may find this kind of breezy film too ethereal and too formless, perhaps like Linklater’s other similarly feeling films. There is a sense that this is an earnestly small film that won’t overwhelm with the laughs, nor with any kind of cinematic prowess. It seems like there could’ve been more done here, particularly as this is an unofficial sequel to the tremendous 1973 film The Last Detail, which is a more entertaining and more thematically provocative film whose power overshadows this similar, yet emotionally inferior road movie.

The three lead actors in Last Flag Flying are very well cast in this tonally mixed drama-comedy. Each of them have reached heights in both genres and bring their mix of charisma and tenderness to this very miserable tale that is injected with a healthy dose of humorous camaraderie. No other living American director could’ve pulled off this type of film better than Linklater.