The latest work by Richard Linklater is one of those films where it is not so much the journey itself that matters, but rather the people who are on it. Thirty years after serving in the Vietnam war together, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), a Navy corpsman, seeks out his old Marine pals Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) for one last mission. The assignment being to help Shepherd bury his son who was recently killed in Iraq. As the three men embarked on their impromptu road trip, they reflect on their time in the military and contemplate how their country treats those who risk their lives to defend it.
Last Flag Flying’s political commentary may not have the powerful punch it strives for, but Linklater provides much for the audience to chew on. Yes, one can argue the film is often preaching to the choir. However, this does not diminish the points it makes about corrupt governments and their disposable approach to vets and those currently serving in the military. There is a quiet rage bubbling underneath the surface of the film, one that is tired of the frequent lies that are peddled by those in power.
Where this adaption of Darryl Ponicsan’s novel succeeds is in the interactions between the three men. There is an ease to their conversation regardless of whether they are lamenting the atrocities they witnessed in the name of war, or gleefully trying to explain how attending a brothel is sort of like visiting an old friend. Similar to Linklater’s earlier works, there is a joy that comes with observing people talking through their issues.
It also helps that the comradery feels natural. Watching Cranston’s foul mouthed Nealon, who now owns a bar, and Fishburne’s stubborn Mueller, who has surprised everyone by becoming a preacher, go through their odd couple style scenes is a treat. Last Flag Flying effectively finds way to infuse plenty of humour into its many dramatic beats. So while the commentary may not stick with the viewer long, they will still be glad that they got to spend time with these friends on their journey.