Three Vietnam vets band together to bring home the fallen son of Larry ‘Doc’ Shephard (Carell) after he’s KIA during the Iraq war. An emotional rollercoaster of a road trip follows, starring three titans of the silver screen.
Last Flag Flying 4DDs out of 5
Although it’s not an official sequel, Last Flag Flying picks up where Hal Ashby’s 1973 The Last Detail starring Otis Young, Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid left off. Both films are based on novels written by Darryl Ponicsan, but Richard Linklater director of Last Flag Flying takes some creative license in deviating from Ashby’s work, changing the names of the characters but retaining the narrative threads and mood of the earlier film.
The 124 minutes that follow takes the viewer on a long and winding road of emotion, with laugh out loud moments as well as genuine tear-jerkers. The 1973 flick saw two US navy soldiers transporting a friend to a military prison. Last Flag Flying follows a similar format, but picks up with three soldiers three decades after the one who went to prison, Larry “Doc” Shepard, played by Steve Carell, has been released and made a life for himself. The men haven’t been in touch since circumstances that saw Doc imprisoned. But now Doc needs his old Nam buddies for one last trip: to reclaim and bury the body of his son Larry Jr. Junior followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the army, only to be killed in an incident, tragically, during the closing stages of the Iraq War. The film, despite its heavy army theme, features no actual warfare. Instead, it places its emphasis entirely on the characters and each of their quirks, flaws and baggage.
As free-wheeling, occasionally meandering story, some may find Last Flag Flying’s pace a little frustrating, but we would advise you to stick with it. Based in post-Iraq war New York, there are some beautiful moments between the cast members, not just the stars, but also the supporting members. One section that particularly tickles and entertains occurs when the main trio are coaxed into buying these new-fangled mobile cellular phones by Sal, played by Bryan Cranston. Set in December 2003, phone’s weren’t that common so there’s plenty of room for mirth in the bewilderment of them gents discovering the technology for the first time. There’s also the fun they continually make of Laurence Fishurne’s character Richard “The Mauler” Mueller, who was notorious during his tour of duty but has since found Christ and is now a married Pastor with a dedicated congregation.
But it isn’t all light, there are some very sombre, dark moments here too and the film poses some familiar and justifiably pointed questions about the value of waging war abroad and the West’s foreign policy at large. Even in its lighter moments, Last Flag Flying feels weighted in the gravity of one lonely man, leaning on his old comrades to get him through the inherently traumatic and heart-wrenching experience of a father burying his son.
Young actor J. Quinton Johnson, who plays the best friend of Larry Jr. J Charlie Washington, comfortably holds his own in the company of the film’s stellar cast and accompanies trio for the home stretch of Last Flag Flying. His performance and character’s inclusion allows for the film to be inclusive of a younger audience and gives it some welcome fresh air.
Last Flag Flying is in cinemas nationwide now.