BFI London Film Festival: Last Flag Flying

Last Flag Flying
Last Flag Flying
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne
Screening at LFF October 8th, 9th, 10th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

A melancholic reflection on the cost of war, Last Flag Flying is a well-intentioned film that falls flat. Led by three great actors giving decent performances; the dialogue is droll at times, but as the narrative is weak, we are left with little to be amused by.

A spiritual sequel to Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973), this road movie becomes an exposition on the futility of war. And as director Richard Linklater does so well; it also becomes a period piece set in 2003, as commentary on technology of the time features nearly as much as the Iraq war.

In 2003, Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd (Carell) seeks out his old Vietnam War buddies Sal (Cranston) and Mueller (Fishburne) and convinces them to accompany him to bury his son who’s died in the Iraq war. A subdued Larry has since reflected on his time in Vietnam and made amends for his sins, much as Mueller has done the same, and in turn found God to become a clergymen. Sal has yet to come to terms and repent, spending his days and nights fueled by alcohol and a sardonic demeanour. The old gang gets back together to reflect on Vietnam, Iraq and the senselessness of war; political commentary abounds while character development remains restrained.

There are laughs to be had in this downbeat drama, but it’s the actors who bring them to fruition rather than the film’s content. The sad reflection on past sins and regrets is resonant throughout, but with overt dialogue, the affect that the themes should have is lost. Full of ideas rather than substance, Last Flag Flying has good intentions, a good cast, but never manages to be anything more than merely ‘good’.

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