(Image via Amazon Studios/Lionsgate)
Richard Linklater has been making some of the best work of his career recently, with Boyhood, Bernie, and Before Midnight all being major highlights from this decade. Mr. Linklater continues his successes with Last Flag Flying, his latest film that’s also one of his very best. The film serves as an unofficial sequel to Hal Ashby‘s The Last Detail, which was based on the book of the same name by Darryl Ponicsan. Ponicsan wrote a sequel to that novel back in 2012 and he adapted his own screenplay with Mr. Linklater. The end result is a film that’s funny, sad, emotional, beautiful, and a timely film that’s among some of the very best films of 2017.
This sequel takes place in 2003, months after the invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration. Vietnam veterans Doc (Steve Carell), Sal (Bryan Cranston), and Mueller (Lawrence Fishburne), reunite after decades because Doc’s son has died while serving his country overseas, and he’s asked his two best friends from his time in the service to drive across the country to retrieve his body from the government, and bring him back home to be buried in his hometown. The film is a road-trip buddy film that also serves as an allegory to both the Bush administration while also having an allegory or two to the current presidential administration.
Richard Linklater is not a political filmmaker, but he’s made films with political undertones. Some of his most iconic films (Slacker, Dazed, the Before trilogy, etc.) feature characters talking passionately about political movements or problems within our world (or theirs) that can be solved through political change. Next to Fast Food Nation, this is the most political film Mr. Linklater has ever made, but the film’s politics never get in the way of the core of the film, which is the three characters at heart, and the relationship/bond they have as they help their friend through a deeply personal and tragic period in his life.
And Last Flag Flying wouldn’t have been as effective if it wasn’t for those three incredible performances by Carell, Cranston, and Fishburne. All three of them give some of the very best performances of their career with this film. Cranston is in fine-form as the hard-to-love-drunk Sal, Carell is heartbreaking as the stoic, defeated Doc, and Fishburne as the soldier-turned-Preacher who looks back on his past life with shame rather than with honor. Linklater has become a filmmaker that actors can depend on to help them give an emotional raw and honest performance (see Patricia Arquette‘s Oscar-winning turn in Boyhood), and the same can be said for all three men in their performances. Fishburne will be reuniting with Mr. Linklater for next year’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and I hope to see Cranston and Carell continue to give more incredible performances in future Linklater projects. Speaking of Linklater collaborators, J. Quinton Johnson (you might remember him from Linklater’s last film, Everybody Wants Some!!) makes a solid supporting turn in the film as a soldier/best friend of Carell’s son’s character that accompanies the three veterans on their journey to get his son home.
Linklater has always been a dialogue-heavy writer when it comes to his films/screenplays, and Last Flag Flying is no exception to that rule. The three leads spend lots of scenes just talking, either about the situation currently happening, the culture at the time (there’s a scene involving Eminem that’s pretty funny), the news at the time, and so on. The talks that these men have are deep, fascinating, meandering, and philosophical. It’s many of these attributes that show Richard Linklater at his strongest, both behind the camera as a director and as the films co-screenwriter. If the film gets some awards consideration (which it deserves), I’m hoping the screenplay by Mr. Linklater and Mr. Ponicsan gets most of that attention.
Last Flag Flying was a deeply moving picture. It’s a character/dialogue heavy film, like all of Linklater’s films, and it’s also one of his best. It’s Richard Linklater’s most political film to date, but also one of his most sincere and touching films he’s ever made. The film is now playing in theaters (The AFS Cinema, which is owned by Mr. Linklater, is playing the film right now in Austin) and I can’t recommend this film enough. As the year is winding down and lots of great films are being released, make sure Last Flag Flying doesn’t slip through the cracks before the end of the year.