In honor of Memorial Day, here is a review of a movie about a fallen hero.
“Last Flag Flying” was directed and co-written by Richard Linklater (his only war movie), based on co-writer Darryl Ponicsan’s novel. The novel is a sequel to “The Last Detail” and the three main characters from that book are carried over into this movie. However, the movie is not really a sequel.
The movie stars the trio of Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne as Vietnam war veterans who reunite for the burial of Carrell’s son who died in Iraq. “Doc” (Carrell) reconnects with Sal (Cranston) and then they guilt-trip Mueller (Fishburne) into going on the trip to Dover Air Force Base to get the casket. When Doc learns the actual circumstances surrounding his son’s death, he refuses a military funeral and burial at Arlington National Cemetery. He insists on taking the body back home for burial. This results in a lot of dialogue and some minor speed bumps. The trio bond along the way, of course.
There are two mysteries that lurk below the surface: how did the son really die and what happened to Doc in Vietnam that got him put in the brig for two years? The movie teases out the Doc situation, but never clearly answers the question. It is very much a road trip movie with Carrell the grieving stoic caught between the now-pious Mueller (he’s a reverend) and the profane, irreligious Sal. Sal and Mueller go at it over God, but both are cynical about the Vietnam War and the government in general.
If you are a Fox News viewer, this movie is not for you. It is clearly anti-Vietnam and anti-Iraq with a side order of anti-government. However, it does treat the Marine Corps with respect, in the end. The main draw of the movie is the trio of actors. It is very much an ensemble movie. Cranston dominates in a juicy role, but Carrell and Fishburne hold their own. This is one of Carrell’s dramatic roles and once again he proves that he has been able to overcome his Michael Scott persona. Although the movie has some tension-lifting humor, it is definitely not a comedy. It is basically a road trip movie with stock characters, but the underlying mysteries make it intriguing. Doc’s back-story is shocking and allows Carrell to play him as a damaged soul as well as grieving father.
“Last Flag Flying” is a worthy addition to the fallen hero subgenre. It is amiable and clearly aimed at the general public. War movie lovers may be disappointed by the omission of the flashbacks the subgenre is noted for. It does not take the standard route like the recent “Da 5 Bloods”. There are no shots fired. Only verbal shots. It is a bit long and emotion-tugging, but it is entertaining and an appropriate homage to the modern fallen and their families.
GRADE = B-