“Last Flag Flying” (3/4), in select theaters


“War is the worst act of terrorism and among the greatest causes of human suffering and death and ecological degradation. Wars are declared by the rich and fought by the poor. There will be no real justice and protection of human rights and the rights of nature until a sustainable global peace has been achieved.” This quote by Brian J. Trautman is a warning, and one that I pray will be absorbed, understood and acted upon, one can hope…..

Richard Linklater’s new film “Last Flag Flying,” which opened the New York Film Festival 2017, cleverly blends a buddy comedy road movie into its rightful place which is a home-front war drama.  There is side-splitting laughter to be sure with brilliant performances by  Steve Carell,  Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston but the film is also somber as it looks—closely—at the stupidity and brutality of war. 

There is an ongoing conversation about “why” war drawing parallels between Vietnam and Iraq and scratching down to the big questions, such as what is the nature of truth and heroism.

An Amazon/Lionsgate release of a screenplay that took twenty long years to get made. The journey of this particular incarnation of the story began in 2005 with novelist and co-screenwriter Darry Ponicsan a direct sequel to the author's debut, The Last Detail. 

The story is set on 2003 inside Sal's Bar & Grill (the "Grill" part went by the wayside) an empty Virginia local bar loosely run by Sal (Bryan Cranston) an ex-Marine. When an ex-Navy man Larry Shepherd (Carell), whom he remembers from their Vietnam days as Doc, wanders in out of the rain, the heart of the story starts to beat. 

It’s clear that the rain-soaked Doc is hurting but he doesn’t tell anything asking Sal to drive him to a surprise location, which turns out to be at a vibrant Baptist church, where the third member of their trio from 30 years earlier, "Mueller the Mauler," is now the Reverend Richard (Fishburne), preaching to his Sunday congregation.

After a traditional African-American, Southern Sunday dinner with Richard and his supportive wife Ruth (Deanna Reed-Foster), Doc reveals the real purpose of tracking down his two estranged Marine buddies. Doc's son Larry Jr., a 21-year-old Marine, was just killed in Baghdad, and his body is being flown home for a hero's burial at Arlington Cemetery. Having recently lost his wife to cancer, Doc asks them to accompany him for emotional support. The circumstances around Larry Jr.'s death are not as reported, causing Doc to refuse a military burial and insist on transporting his son's body back home to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to be buried alongside his mother. 

On the journey is Larry Jr.'s close friend Lance Corp. Washington (J. Quinton Johnson) assigned as the trio's official Marine escort, and the heart of the story opens, wider

There is a brotherhood re-forming.  And in an effort to heal their aching souls, the three war veterans make a detour to pay a long overdue call to the elderly mother (Cicely Tyson) of another buddy from their extended tour in Vietnam, whose death has weighed heavily on the three men over the decades. 

The visit has an amazing surprise which helps to amplify the emotional impact of the film.  

The acting is first-rate, starting with Carell's subdued performance as soft-spoken Doc, a man whose life is filled with disappointment and hurt yet, he remains a human with great integrity. Fishburne is on point and commanding as a man of the cloth whose wild past seemed to be buried but arises on the trip in the most amusing ways. Cranston's character is wonderfully complicated—paradoxical even—charmingly and abrasive. 

Although the critics might enjoy picking this film down to the bone, it’s the audiences that will find and embrace the joy of “Last Flag Flying.” 

“Last Flag Flying” now playing.  Originally reviewed as part of the NYFF 55 Film Festival.