Comedy Drama

'Last Flag Flying' Film Review: Richard Linklater's latest can't muster enough to fly higher than half-mast

November 24, 2017Britany Murphy

Losing someone while they are on active duty is a reality for millions of people around the world. But what if the truth behind what actually happened to your loved one was covered up by the very branch of the military they fought with?

Set in 2003, Last Flag Flying follows Larry "Doc" Shepherd (Steve Carell), after he walks into a bar owned by fellow former Marine Corps member Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston). The visit comes as a surprise to Sal, who doesn't recognize his old Vietnam war buddy at first, but when Doc reminds him of who he is, it is as if no time between the pair has ever passed. Doc remains at the bar all night, sleeping at one of the booths with Sal nearby, and when morning comes, Doc convinces Sal to go on an adventure.

The duo head to a church, where they encounter Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). Initially, Richard believes that the pair have just joined the church, but upon asking them to stand up and let the congregation know what brought them there, Sal reveals that he used to serve in the Marines alongside Doc and Richard. The congregation's newfound knowledge of their pastor is greeted with a round of applause for his service in protecting the country. But it isn't until the trio attend dinner at Richard's house that the true nature of Doc's visit is revealed.

When the group, along with Richard's wife, Ruth (Deanna Reed-Foster), are seated in the living room for some coffee and dessert, Doc tells them that his son was killed during his tour in Iraq and that he brought the "band back together" in the hopes that the two would come with him to retrieve the body from the airbase and attend the funeral. Reluctant at first, Sal and Richard make the decision to support their friend. But upon arrival at the airbase, Richard and Sal get some startling news from Lance Corporal Charlie Washington (J. Quinton Johnson). It's in this moment that Sal and Richard realize that what Doc has been told about his son's death isn't the truth.

Director Richard Linklater's latest turn behind the camera is an interesting one. Although the story — adapted by Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan from Ponicsan's 2005 novel of the same name — has its moments, the pacing is off and the majority of the film feels like a slow burn. It takes too long for things to get to where they inevitably go, and even though Linklater and the cast try to add some moments of levity that might otherwise work in a different movie, the heaviness of the subject matter makes it nearly impossible to laugh at any point past Doc's admission.

That said, the film's problems don't take away from the performances by Carell, Cranston and Fishburne. All three are great in their respective roles and they have great chemistry together, with each bringing an essence so real to their character that one can't imagine any other actors portraying Doc, Sal and Richard. In the long run, though, not even the movie's stars can atone for a final product that could have been so much more.

Last Flag Flying releases November 24th, 2017 from VVS Films. The film has an MPAA rating of R. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 5 min.

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