Directed By Richard Linklater
Throughout his outstanding career, reputed writer-director Richard Linklater proved to have a special gift, handling conversational romantic dramas (Before Trilogy), meticulous coming-of-age epics (“Boyhood”, “Dazed and Confused”), and entertaining period comedies (“Bernie”, “Everybody Wants Some”) with plenty of thoughtfulness, charm, and narrative charisma.
This time around, he joined forces with novelist Darryl Ponicsan to present a totally different story and style. Far more traditional, I would say.
“Last Flag Flying” takes a poignant look at war and at a father’s suffering. However, this woefully dramatic view intertwines with a comedic side that only works intermittently, without never providing that plain satisfaction one expects.
Not so cozy or smart in the dialogue, the film tells us about three old friends and Navy-vets, Larry "Doc" Shepherd (Steve Carell), Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), who reunite in sad circumstances, decades after having returned from Vietnam.
Arrived from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Doc, who finds everyone on the Internet and did time in a US Navy prison, was the one with the initiative of establishing contact with Sal, the reckless, permanently-hungover owner of a small bar, and Richard, a former alcoholic now turned into a married, respectful preacher at the Beacon Baptist Church. The reason for that is because Doc, now a widower, needs help to fetch and bury the dead body of his 21-year-old son, another national hero killed in Baghdad, days before Saddam Husain has been captured.
The friends drive to the Dover Air Force Base, just to learn that Doc’s son was no hero after all. He died when he left the base to get cokes for his buddies. Piqued by Sal, who approves of conflict and confrontation, Doc opts for taking his son to Portsmouth and bury him like a civilian in his graduation suit, provoking the exasperation of the authoritative Lt Col. Willits (Yul Vazquez).
The road trip back home becomes quite adventurous with some unexpected frictions, a couple of good laughs regarding the time in Vietnam, along with some regrets too, and the tightness of an almost forgotten friendship. Yet, the film keeps relying too much on the bigmouthed Sal and his agitated personality to impress, which, unfortunately, didn’t cause so much impact on me.
Making a feel-good movie from a tragedy is no easy-to-do task, and Linklater only partially succeeds in that challenging endeavor. For most of its duration, “Last Flag Flying” felt more like a banal film rather than a Linklater’s film. Since the characters look and sound hypocritical on several occasions, authenticity was never set as a priority.