The death of a young US Marine reunites three Vietnam Veterans as they embark upon a bittersweet road trip where their past deeds are confronted and their futures considered.
Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell are our heroes and whilst their lives have taken them in different directions, they come full circle as circumstances conspire to remind them that they were in a band of brothers.
Cranston’s disillusioned, grizzled bar owner, Sal, gets all the best lines as he coasts through life drinking and cursing like a, well, trooper. His cynical take on life “We were all something once, now we’re something else” sums up his rather relaxed attitude towards the existence he’s created for himself. Whilst definetly the life and soul of the party, there’s an air of melancholy hanging over him that he either doesn’t see, or care about.
Laurence Fishburne’s reformed Reverend is as Evangelical as they come with Jesus offering him the redemption he sorely craves as he attempts to put his previous life behind him. His clashes with Atheist, Sal, offers up some of life’s great unanswered questions and the verbal sparring between the pair as they go around in circles is a treat.
In contrast to the other two’s relatively loud characters, Steve Carell’s Larry, as the catalyst for the reunion, is a perfectly understated performance and a masterclass in acting. With a troubled, tragic past of his own, the act of reaching out to men he hasn’t seen for decades is desperate and heartbreaking, but also understandable given the circumstances. Larry’s anguish is painful to watch and often uncomfortable, but all the while utterly compelling.
Acclaimed director, Richard Linklater of Boyhood, takes charge and is also on writing duty along with Darryl Ponicsan who wrote the novel the film is based on. Their script is witty, poignant, bleak, and although set in 2003, incredibly relevant today. Terrorist attacks, fallen regimes, invasions and the futility of war are all explored. Differing opinions on military matters also provide emotional discussions resulting in the most interesting part of Sal’s journey as he tenderly realises that not all lies are necessarily bad lies.
Last Flag Flying regularly finds humour in despair. In one standout scene, our three leads are joined by a young Marine, Washington, ably played by J. Quinton Johnson, in the storage compartment of a train. The three recount stories form their time in Vietnam and their subsequent visits to “Disneyland” which is so spontaneously funny it’s impossible to tell whether it was improvised or just superbly written and performed. Who knew Bryan Cranston taking his socks off would be so funny? This particular scene is as tragic as it is hilarious when you consider one of the characters is sitting on a coffin as the scene plays out.
Character driven films don’t get much better than this. The razor-sharp script and three potentially career best performances, especially Steve Carrell, make Last Flag Flying well worth a watch. Keep an eye on this one when the Oscar nominations are revealed.
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Film critic. YouTube channel www.youtube.com/benpeytonreviews
Former actor. Band of Brothers, Emmerdale, Holby City and a regular (PC Ben Hayward) in The Bill.
Voiceover artist with Rhubarb Voices.