You Learn From Your Brothers (Last Flag Flying review)
I think you can learn a lot about an institution from how it’s offspring take off into the world and live their adult lives. This week’s movie review addresses that idea with warmth, drama and humour.
And just like real life, is simultaneously messed and unresolved.
Last Flag Flying (2017)
Cast: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Richard Linklater
released on blu-ray January 30, 2018
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%, Audience Score 70%
The Guardian: ***/*****
Richard Stuart Linklater is my all-time favourite director. And he’s been my favourite ever since I first watched Waking Life back in 2003 (even though the movie released in 2001). I was barely an adult then, so you might have to cut me some slack on the the time it took me to discover him. Point of fact, Chris and I will be sharing a Cross Talk in coming weeks about our favourite directors, so rather then dig into why I think he’s so amazing as I normally preface these posts, I’ll just share a couple of quick anecdotes now. I’ve reviewed two of Richard Linklater’s films before – Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some. And I recorded that upcoming Cross Talk episode before I watched this movie.
I’ve included the distributors synopsis below and modified it slightly to provide some context…
Thirty years after serving together in the Vietnam War, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and the Rev. Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) reunite for a different type of mission: to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in Iraq. Forgoing burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Doc and his old buddies take the casket on a bittersweet trip up the coast to New Hampshire. Along the way, the three men find themselves reminiscing and coming to terms with the shared memories of a war that continues to shape their lives.
Naturalism is one of the major tools in Linklaters belt. He always manages to bring out the best and brightest of mundane aspects of life. Probably my favourite scene from the whole movie is the experience Carell’s character Doc has upon seeing his dead son when he demands that the military personal open the casket up for him. The camera pans out perfectly and we experience the secondhand emotion a third party would have normally by watching the very real and vulnerable grief someone extremely close to the recently deceased emote. I also enjoyed the interactions between Bryan Cranston’s Sal and the Colonel, that desire to challenge authority is common in many of Linklater’s characters.
And finally, the character of Doc appears very grounded in reality, though we never see him fully open up about his feelings, it is obvious how much he struggles with this unexpected turn of events.
Where the movie becomes a problem for me is in the interactions between the three main characters. They have spent a lot of time apart, and by circumstance are suddenly thrown back into each others lives, but it’s difficult to see why they ever got along or supported each other in the first place. This might be a failing on my part in not fully absorbing the awkward tension these men generate attempting to relate to each other after so much time apart. But I hope with subsequent viewings I can get to the bottom of the tone being explored here.
Pros: Linklater always manages to tell a real story, and stir up a ton of emotions running the gamet of the topic at hand. Never fully committing to one viewpoint or arc, he leaves the viewer with the choice to take something from the film or leave it. It’s difficult to swallow during a film about politics, death, and war.
Cons: That said, It does feel kind of superficial at times, and you don’t really believe the relationships these guys had could endure enough to take the road trip. Yes, they are professional actors, and they are all talented enough to sell their individual roles, but somehow it just doesn’t work thematically at all times.
Linklater has proven he can make any kind of movie, but all the elements of the film manage to conflict in such a negative way, it’s tough to accept this as film with his typical calibre of intent. It never feels especially revelatory, only sad and shallow.
And to sound even more contradictory, while I actually think the themes of patriotism, military service, and political ideologies are dealt with in a mature way, I wish at least one of the protagonists had chosen a side and let the film respond to it.
Runtime: 2 hours 5 minutes
Points of Interest: The film is supposed to be a spiritual sequel to The Last Detail. Laurence Fishburne was Richard Linklater’s only choice for the character of Mueller. Principal photography took only 32 days to complete.
The concept is strong, and I can see what Linklater would have been drawn to it in the first place, but in the end it’s not strong enough in each of it’s parts to overcome the challenges presented and commit to a real anti-war message, instead choosing comedy and drama outbursts to convey the consequences.
Taken together, each of the three protagonists add their own layer to this film about enduring after war-times. Brotherhood is strong, and I am reminded of the film The Deer Hunter, if only because the challenges of psychology, disruption, and resolution echo throughout both films consistently. Showcasing how two or three men raised in the same household (so to speak) could take different paths. It’s a profound statement to make, and as I mentioned earlier, a lesser director would have definitely missed all of the subtleties and disparate viewpoints within the issue. But ultimately, Last Flag Flying falls short for me, and is only a good film, not a great one. And that’s my theory.
That said, I have a really solid Watch Culture video that directly addresses the effects of war on the soul, and it serves as an excellent metaphor for impotence and decay. Surprise, surprise, a comic book movie was able to get an R rating and tell an engaging story. Can’t you tell how excited Mike and Chris are to discuss Logan? I can!
Logan will likely make you cry, but in a good way. And better still, it resolves so many threads of The Wolverine, while paying tribute to Hugh Jackman’s tenure. Check it out! And remember… Like! Comment! Subscribe!