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Last Flag Flying (dir. Linklater)

Image: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston & Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying © Photograph by Wilson Webb [Source: IMDB]

 ★★★☆☆

They served together in Vietnam and have not seen each other since. 30 years on they each live different lives but when Larry Shepherd’s (Steve Carell) young son dies in the Iraq war, he goes to his old buddies to reunite and help him bury his son.

Director: Richard Linklater. Starring: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne. [15]

Last Flag Flying is acting as sort of an unofficial sequel to The Last Detail (Ashby, 1973) and in many respects, you can evidently see those same characters brought to the screen once more. The real prominent part of Last Flag Flying is the ensemble performances, all three main cast members bring prime performances. Laurence Fishburne plays a character rejecting of his past but in a way in which he truly has not moved on, he manages to articulately portray a character who has rebranded himself and is trying to hide away the true him. Bryan Cranston brings to life much of the plot with the zany character of the three, a man with equal parts lust for life as well as deep solemn regret, but the striking performance comes from Steve Carell. As a performer Carell has proven himself time and time again to embody his characters bringing a true authenticity to them, he does this again in Last Flag Flying playing a grieving father who has lost everything in his life.

Despite the finesse of the performances, unfortunately, the writing fails to add sufficient layers to the characters. Often times with Last Flag Flying you will catch not so subtle attempts at indications to the groups dynamic with each other, such as Fishburne’s and Cranston’s character literally being shot as though they were on either side of Carell’s shoulder. The strangest part of all of this is that Linklater fails to make us the audience catch in on any bond between these characters, we get no intriguing insights to the deeper story and ultimately it is that lack of connection to the characters that takes us the audience away from the more touching moments of the film.

Unlike past work of Linklaters, notably Dazed and Confused (1993) or School of Rock (2003), there is no feeling of a shared journey with the characters, we feel isolated from them in Last Flag Flying and when the film centers itself around the rekindling of a bond between three old Vietnam vets, it’s hard to emphasise or feel anything when the drama goes to 11. The direction and cinematography seem to be more reserved and held back as if it were the Vietnam Vet trying to hold back its emotion, stark greys and lots of medium shots convey the subdued life of the story.

Last Flag Flying is a sometimes touching drama, full of lighthearted japes and uncompromising acting strength but while it may work for the most part overall the film fails to form a connection with the audience or deliver in helping us feel as though we are clued in on the bond between the three men. While it is nothing distinctive, the performances and drama alone are enough to keep its flag flying.

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