I often feel that comedies are the hardest films to get right. Combine that with wanting to be a heartfelt drama and Last Flag Flying could have been all sorts of wrong. With some big names for its cast, we are taken on a journey of friendship and sorrow while a man grieves for the loss of his son.
The Movie Itself (4/5)
Last Flag Flying is the latest film from Richard Linklater, a director who is well-liked or much-hated depending which TNM member you ask. He co-wrote the film with Darryl Ponicsan whose novel it is based on. The novel is the sequel to The Last Detail which was also adapted into a film starring Jack Nicholson. So, it’s almost like a spiritual sequel with some names and details being changed.
Last Flag Flying takes place in 2003 and focuses on Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) a former Vietnam vet whose son was just killed in Iraq. Having just lost his wife to cancer months earlier, he is in a miserable state of mind and seeks out old friends for support. Steve Carell may be the main protagonist of the movie, but he plays a very straight and subdued role for the most part. To his credit, he stays in character throughout the film and doesn’t end up being that funny even though it’s a comedy. However, I think that is actually a strength and lends more credence to his loss.
The first recruit is drunken bar owner Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston). Doc lives in New Hampshire and has to go to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to meet his son’s body when it reenters the US. He stops at Sal’s bar along the way in Virginia to reintroduce himself after thirty years and asks him if he’ll accompany him to get the body. Sal steals the show and with the way the script is written, he’s meant to.
Even though Bryan Cranston became a household name with Breaking Bad, he, of course, did a lot of comic material, most notably Malcolm in the Middle. He still has those comedy chops. His timing and delivery are excellent and many times throughout I feel like those around him were genuinely laughing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he improved a bunch of his lines as well.
The last of the trio is Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) a preacher who is also conveniently close by. He is the gruff no-nonsense member who tries to be rational. He plays well off of Sal. At one point Doc is in the middle and the others are trying to convince him they are each right. It was quite the cinematic sight since you had a preacher on one shoulder and a drunken foul mouthed guy on the other. It reminded me of those old cartoons with the angel and devil literally on each shoulder.
The movie continues with Doc deciding he doesn’t want his son in Arlington National Cemetary and instead wants to bring his body home. He wants his friends to accompany him on the journey. One does willingly and the other begrudgingly and not in the order you may expect. There is also a subplot of an event that happened between the three in Vietnam. It alludes to them messing up, Doc getting locked up for two years and a fellow Marine having suffered because of them. The nice thing is that it works well in the story. It’s well planned out and well written. It gives the characters more depth and also correlates what men went through in Vietnam with what was going on in Iraq.
Most of us at least know someone who has served in the military. This film goes to nice lengths to show us a few different sides and things we might not think of as civilians. It’s a rare film that can touch on loss and make the viewer feel emotions that a grieving father and husband is going through while in the next few minutes laughing their asses off with something Cranston says. Listening to Cranston and Fishburne discussing rap and Eminem should make anyone smile.
The only thing I wasn’t really crazy about was probably the last five minutes. It doesn’t ruin the film by any means, it just feels out of place and something that should have happened earlier. It was only made to be put at the end because of the plot and feels tacked on. I just wish it was worked in earlier or cut altogether, but some might appreciate anyway.
Visuals/Picture Quality (4.5/5)
Shot with a Panasonic Varicam at 4K, the film was given a 2K Digital Intermediate. The film looks fantastic in just about every scene. Much of the film takes place either in cars of other interiors, often dimly lit. The lighting comes off as very natural and everything has nice detail even in the low light. The colors are excellent and graded well. Even though some might lament the absence of a UHD at 4K with some HDR, this will remind that Blu-rays can still look fantastic and will beat out streaming just about every time.
Score/Audio Quality (4.5/5)
The English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does its job more than adequately. While much can’t be expected to really show off your sound system in such a dialogue driven film, everything comes through clear and crisp. The soundtrack is subtle and appropriate really only comes through in the rare instance of the characters being alone or there being a lull in dialogue.
Special Features (2/5)
An Unexpected Journey: Making Last Flag Flying (15:49) Interviews with the main cast and director about the different character’s roles. They provided some insight into how they developed their versions and how they were given freedom by the director to make the roles their own.
Outtakes (09:11) Surprisingly, not very funny.
Deleted Scenes (05:39) Three short scenes that don’t really add anything to the film. They’re well done enough and fit the tone, so not sure why they were cut.
Veterans Day (05:41) Interviews with the crew that set up the funeral detail and the caskets. The scene where are trio first see the caskets on the base was actually filmed on Veteran’s Day. These are their reactions and what it meant to them.
- The Big Sick
- Manchester by the Sea
- The Wall
- The Only Living Boy in New York
- UV Code
- Non-eco case
- Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- English SDH
Runtime 124 Mins
Last Flag Flying Overall (4/5)
Last Flag Flying was certainly a surprise. With the many other “old guy buddy” movies that seem to keep coming out, having this film mix in the drama definitely helped the final product. Cranston takes the film and runs with it and outdistances the other leads, but it works. Technical aspects are decent for anyone wanting to pick up the Blu-ray. The features weren’t that great but since you get a UV code anyway, why not get physical over the streaming. You can pick this up from Amazon or many other retailers I’m sure.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgment or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.