Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying is full to the brim with clichés. Three Vietnam veterans are suddenly reunited having parted ways after the war. One is an alcoholic, while another is a recovering alcoholic. What should just be a short trip together becomes a full road trip after a series of questionable choices are made. It’s all pretty standard “let’s get the gang back together” tropes in that respect.
However, there’s a real warmth and depth to Last Flag Flying that sets it apart from similar fare. Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) tracks down his former Marine buddies Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard (Laurence Fishburne) to help him bury his son who has just been killed in Iraq.
Carell is the one providing the real emotional grounding here, in a wonderfully reserved role, leaving Cranston to put his foot firmly down on the comedy pedal and go wild. With Fishburne’s Richard now a reverend, this really is the case of Doc having an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Cranston is a force of nature, hamming it up and dishing out deliciously terrible advice. Fishburne is unfortunately there simply to counterbalance this and is left sadly underused.
There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments throughout, alongside some genuinely poignant ones. Sadly, despite all of this, there’s just something missing. You can guess where each scene is heading the moment it begins, and each pitfall the group stumbles across on their journey is just as predictable. While everyone plays their part incredibly well, there’s just some kind of spark missing between the trio.
It’s good fun and has a warm heart, but there’s nothing of real substance on offer in Last Flag Flying. Cranston is still immensely watchable, however, in one of his best film roles to date.
CAST: Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell
DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater
WRITERS: Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan (screenplay); Darryl Ponicsan (novel)
SYNOPSIS: 30 years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd reunites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War.