Over the years, no one has quite captured the feeling of just spending time with friends on the big screen like Richard Linklater has. It’s an amazing skill for which he doesn’t quite get the credit he deserves. Yes, he’s feted often and this skill is mentioned, but to be able to do it like he does is really something. This week, and today, actually, audiences can see Linklater once again chronicle individuals just spending time with each other, as Last Flag Flying is being released. This is a terrific movie, among the best of the year. Linklater has done it again. He’s on quite the run lately, between this, Everybody Wants Some, and of course, Boyhood.
Once more, a description for those of you not aware what this one is about. The film is a sequel of sorts to The Last Detail, though familiarity with that picture is hardly required. Truthfully, it’s more an adaptation of the book Last Flag Flying, which is itself only a spiritual sequel to the original. Anyway, on to the plot. Out of contact with each other for three decades, a trio of the Vietnam War veterans are brought back together. Former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with his two old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and now Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). The purpose is not nostalgia though, but to bury Larry’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War during the start of that new unpopular war. Each man has something to deal with, either in the present or the past, but find that time spent together now is much different than when they were young and dumb during Vietnam. Linklater co-writes with author of the novel Darryl Ponicsan and directs here. Also making up the cast are J. Quinton Johnson, Cicely Tyson, Yul Vazquez, Graham Wolfe, and more. Shane F. Kelly handles the cinematography, while Graham Reynolds composed the score.
I’ll reiterate much of what I said about movie back when I saw it as the Opening Night selection of the 2017 New York Film Festival: I cried on multiple occasions during this one. Last Flag Flying represents one of Linklater’s most mature works to date, and one of his best too. Carell and Cranston have never been better, while Fishburne is terrific too. Tyson kills it in her one scene, while Linklater proves very adept at middle aged male bonding dynamics. It’s often a heartbreaking picture, though a very funny one as well. Carell will undoubtedly make you cry, while Cranston will make you howl with laughter. In fact, he’s very much channeling Jack Nicholson here. It’s impressive work on all fronts. NYFF had another strong Opening Night Selection on their hands with this one. This flick is a winner.
The Academy Awards could easily take notice of Last Flag Flying. Look for Amazon Studios to have an accord the board candidacy, though focused in on Best Picture, Best Director (for Linklater), Best Actor (for Carell, unless he goes Supporting), Best Supporting Actor (for Carell, Cranston, and/or Fishburne, depending on final placement), Best Supporting Actress (for Tyson), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Linklater and Ponicsan), Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. The main trio are really co-leads, so it’ll be interesting to see how a campaign shakes out. Category placement could make or break them. Still, this one seems like it’ll be a player. The quality is certainly there. We’ll just have to see what the precursors bring.
Starting today, Last Flag Flying is opening in limited release, and it’s a must see. If you’re a Linklater fan, this will both feel like something new from him, as well as recognizably his own work. It’s his most mature hang out movie to date. Plus, Carell is turning in career best work, with Cranston not far behind. You’ll laugh and cry in equal measure, and that’s the mark of a special film. Whether we see Oscar take a shine to this one or not, it continues a strong run of late for Linklater, something that should only continue with his next flick, the adaptation of Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Look for that one next year, but head out to see his latest as soon as possible. You’ll thank me afterwards…
Be sure to check out Last Flag Flying, in theaters now!