THREE STARS A grieving father determines to defy the army and bury his dead son at home.
Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston
A couple of years ago, Richard Linklater released the phenomenal BOYHOOD which distilled eleven years of footage into a three hour portrait of a kid called Mason growing up. More than any other of his films, it showed how good Linklater can be with actors. It also shows his tendency to wander around the topic, and lose focus.
So it is with LAST FLAG FLYING when Vietnam vet Larry Shepherd (Steve Carrell) seeks out a couple of ex-Marines (Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston) to help him bury his son. The three couldn’t be more different - one has become a pastor - yet they still recognise that which bound them together, and in this time of need (Larry’s son has been killed on active duty in Iraq), it binds them still.
As with BOYHOOD or any from his SUNRISE/SUNSET/MIDNIGHT trilogy, Linklater paints some devastatingly honest scenes in which his characters flourish. Some are funny, some sad, all are honest, poignant and telling. Cranston makes the most of his on-edge character with Carrell (against type as the grief stricken father) and Fishburne (also pleasingly withheld as a born-again on a new life-mission) rounding out the basket of emotion.
They’re up against an over-familiar narrative arc with little that separates this from too many similar stories. The US government has whitewashed the boy’s death to ensure an Arlington funeral (‘everyone is a hero’), but Larry wants a private farewell. The men intervene and a road-trip-of-truth follows as they take the body home. There are many occasions to pause and reflect along the way. You’ll be forgiven if your mind wanders.
Accordingly LAST FLAG FLYING is somewhat disappointing. There are a number of compelling scenes, but most of the rest has been seen before, and with an overlong runtime (two hours plus), they nor the cast are enough to drag you through the film’s less interesting elements.