LAST FLAG FLYING (2017)
Starring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, J. Quinton Johnson, Deanna Reed-Foster, Yul Vasquez, Cicely Tyson, Graham Wolfe, Jeff Monahan, Dontez James, Tammy Tsai, Richard Barlow, Cathy O’Dell, Jane Mowder, Richard Robichaux, Jerry Lee Tucker and Marc Moore Jr.
Screenplay by Richard Linklater & Darryl Ponicson.
Directed by Richard Linklater.
Distributed by Lionsgate/Amazon Studios. 124 minutes. Rated R.
Screened at the 2017 Philadelphia Film Festival.
Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying is not exactly a sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 military road trip classic The Last Detail, but it is as just about close as can be. The director refers to it as a “spiritual sequel,” much like his 2015 film Everybody Wants Some!! was a spiritual sequel to his 90s film Dazed and Confused – different characters, different storyline, but similar attitudes and structures.
There is a direct connection. Last Flag Flying is based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Darryl Ponicson, which was a loose sequel to his 1970 novel The Last Detail, which was the source material for the original. Ponicson was also onboard for the film, co-writing the screenplay with director Linklater.
The character names are different in Last Flag Flying, and their basic biographies have changed (for example, these guys were Marines, while the characters in The Last Detail were in the Navy). However, it’s hard not to notice the many character similarities.
Bryan Cranston gets the Jack Nicholson role of the loud, fun-loving, alcoholic alpha dog. Laurence Fishburne takes on the Otis Young role of the slightly more careful black character, who has many demons but tries to keep them under wraps. Steve Carell plays the Randy Quaid role of a younger, naïve, slightly goofy guy who ended up spending time in the brig.
The new film looks at a reunion between the three long-separated military men, who share yet another road trip when the son of Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Carell) is killed in action during the war in Iraq. (The film takes place in 2003.) The bereft Doc, who was also recently widowed when his wife died of breast cancer six months earlier, is not sure that he can handle the trip to claim the body alone, so he Googles his old friends and just shows up, asking them to accompany him on the drive.
Sal (Cranston) hasn’t changed a bit since the old days. He is an alcoholic, reprobate, big-mouthed, antagonistic owner of a small bar. Richard (Fishburne) on the other hand has made a complete 180 in his life, burying his hard-partying past and becoming a contented ordained Reverend, caring for his flock and trying to live cleanly.
Neither man recognizes Doc on first sight – and we quickly learn that they have some shadowy shared secret that caused Doc to spend a couple of years in military prison.
Sal, with nothing better to do, is all in for the trip. However, Richard does not want to stir things up from his settled past. His wife guilts him into joining his former friends.
So, they head down for the somber task, as old bonds and resentments start to bubble up to the surface. Like in The Last Detail, they take lots of side tracks and adventures on the way, but mostly come to reconnect with old friends that they had blocked out for their own reasons.
Last Flag Flying is a very funny, and sometimes devastatingly sad film. It’s anti-war message (“What was it all for?”) is more overt than in the slightly subtler original film, but it gets the point across.
The three actors show a natural bond. Cranston has the flashiest role here, but Fishburne shows a quiet strength and doubt as the Reverend, and Carell is often devastating as the bereaved father. Last Flag Flying may be a slightly more introspective, restrained film than The Last Detail, however it wears that film’s dress blues with a certain bruised grace and honor.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 21, 2017.