Last Flag Flying - This Linklater Movie Does Not Rock, Sadly
Dir: Richard Linklater
Starring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne
Linklater’s latest is a curious mix. It began life as an adaptation of Daryl Ponicsan’s sequel to his debut novel The Last Detail, and, as such, a sort of sequel to the Hal Ashby’s movie of the first book. Somewhere along the way, Linklater abandoned the idea of filming the book as written – i.e. by renaming his three central characters so, despite a shared background (all involved are marines, at one point one has been to the brig) this is not really the Last Detail sequel that was expected.
What it is now is a comedy-drama set in the pivotal year of 2003 – the Iraq war is raging, Saddam has been found, 9/11 is still an open wound – as three old soldiers reunite to take the body of one of their sons home to be buried. And it’s a very uneven journey. Where Ashby’s original film (and whilst it isn’t fair to compare them necessarily – Linklater did start it) was scabrous, satirical and genuinely angry and critical of “the system”, this is a movie of platitudes and unanswered questions, along the lines “God, what’s happened to this country?” and “they lied to us then, they’re still lying to us now.” Not exactly revelatory, hell, not even particularly interesting. Even the anger that you feel should be rising here – in Cranston’s character in particular – is lacking. Instead, the three men just meander cross-country, sharing a few old memories and appearing mildly disappointed with the country they once fought for.
Which would be fine if the performances were more compelling but, sadly, they’re not. Cranston, Carell and Fishburne all have moments but all three seem strangely under developed and unconvincing. They talk about a lifelong bond of closeness, but seem unable to convey it. Instead, they latch onto their own specific “types” from their first scene and just stay with it.
But it is still a Linklater film, if not one of his best, so there are still some things to cherish and, despite the odds, it does eventually make its way to a satisfying climax.
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