Opening in 2003, Last Flag Flying is a modern period piece that uses that distinct post 9/11 period in America and the disillusionment of aging Vietnam veterans to explore both the horrors and the pride of being a soldier and fighting for one’s country. Director Richard Linklater gives his take on the saturated war film, avoiding the battlefield and instead giving us a road movie that allows our three very different protagonists, the crude Sal, Timid ‘Doc’ and religious Mueller, to reflect and revel in the adventures of their youth.
Each of our main characters played brilliantly by Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne are very different people with very different lives yet they are united by their bond and loyalty formed in Vietnam 30 years prior to the events of the film. Brought together again by the death of Carell’s son, Linklater uses this tragedy for some terrific character moments as the three men reminisce about their pasts and discuss their disdain with the military. While definitely opposed to the futility of war, Linklater never condemns being a soldier fully and ensures to show the complexities of the topic; there is as much pride as sadness in Carell’s eyes when he says goodbye to his son. However, while the interactions and adventures of our cast are certainly entertaining, offering plenty of drama and humour, they are ultimately rather forgettable; The greatest weakness of Last Flag Flying is that Linklater has wrapped his distinct humour and charm around a weak, unoriginal plot that just drags it down. While an enjoying watch, there is nothing here to bring you back; in many ways, Linklater’s talent seems wasted on this project and the same can be said of the stars – It is obvious that the script has been sitting on a dusty shelf for about a decade.
Honestly, if you are going to love Last Flag Flying, it will be due to the strong chemistry between our three leads. Their repartee is the one aspect that puts the film above a lot of similar war veteran features and thankfully Linklater keeps the focus on them throughout; many of the most compelling scenes in the film contain a simple camera setup and just follow the three of them sitting and having a chat with friends. Definitely a film for fathers day, Last Flag Flying is worth a watch if you are interested but by no means rush out to see this one.