Director Linklater broke into the film-making scene with youth films like SLACKER and DAZED AND CONFUSED. He progressed into romantic comedies like BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET, but with a more realistic edge. His breakthrough film was the highly acclaimed BOYHOOD that reported too12 years in the making. His latest, LAST FLAG FLYING is arguably most serious film, dealing with real adults coming to terms with their lives and with the death of one of the sons.
LAST FLAG FLYING is based on the novel by Darryl Ponicsan co-written by him and Linklater. The film understandably contain the least improvisation of Linklater’s work, the story bound by the novel and the script that Linklater co-wrote. The more structured narrative serves as both an advantage to his film with more focus but then lacks some of the inventive energy he is so well known for.
The time setting is 2003. 30 years after they served together in the Vietnam War, former Navy Corps medic Richard “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with ex-Marines Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) on a different type of mission: to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Doc decides to forgo burial at Arlington Cemetery and, with the help of his old buddies, takes the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. This is a serious road trip reuniting the marines as the three reminisce on what they themselves have gone through.
Linklater is unafraid of the use of strong language in his script. Foul language involving the ‘f’ word is common along with talon drugs and prostitution (though none are on display on screen).
The story takes its time to unfold – the film more devoted to character development than plot revelation. The film is not without humour despite its serious theme, quite a it of it deriving from Cranston’s character.
The film’s tagline is: Their last mission was not on the battlefield. The film’s story is a bit dated, and the film would definitely be a hard sell since it is about ex-marines during the Vietnam War with a bit on the Iraqi War that Americans are also trying to forget. Would one want to spend two hours in a theatre watching ex-marines mopping on their past?
The film contains solid performances by Steve Carell (almost unrecognizable with moustache) in more serious form as well as Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne, in contrast in lighter mode. Oscar nominated Actress Cicely Tyson (SOUNDER) does a nice turn in a cameo role. The film definitely benefits from its 3 relatively big stars playing ex-Vietnam Marines.
LAST FLAG FLYING is the unofficial sequel to the 1973 film directed by Hal Ashby which also starred Jack Nicholson. Though LAST FLAG FLYING is not bad, it comes no where close to the biting humour and satirical approach of THE LAST DETAIL.