Last Flag Flying

by Toby Woollaston

Director Richard Linklater is something of an enigma within the independent film fraternity. Although not new on the scene, the American auteur consistently eschews independent cinema’s insistence on reinventing the wheel and applies the philosophy that it is what you shoot, rather than how you shoot, that maketh the movie. He is in a sense, pushing boundaries by not doing so, and his latest film Last Flag Flying epitomises the old adage of less is more. Like his award-winning Boyhood, Linklater has taken complex relationships and layered them over a simple story using a crystal-clear cinematic vocabulary. No arty camera angles, overly contemplative takes or other undue focus on the mise-en-scène. Nope, Linklater’s vision here is uncluttered, transparent, and affecting.

Set in 2002, at the time of the war in Iraq (and the onset of cellphones, which the film amusingly pays homage to), the story centres around three Vietnam veterans. Larry (Steve Carrell), a widower, has recently lost his son in the Iraq war. The internment causes tension between Larry, who wants his son buried at home, and the state who’d “prefer” to have him buried as a war hero at Arlington Cemetery.  Alone and adrift in a sea of grief, he turns to his old war buddies, Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard (Laurence Fishburne).  The film becomes a road trip of sorts as they travel to collect the body, but it lends them time to reconnect and discover common bonds they still share despite their wildly different post-war paths. 

It is a heart-achingly tender film laced with moments of warmth and humour.  Linklater’s roomy directorial style gives all three actors ample space to spread their wings—Fishburne’s slightly stilted performance perhaps the film’s only let-down. And while Cranston’s charismatic bluster compensates, it is Carrell’s performance as a grieving father that resonates most. 

Last Flag Flying is a fine example of Directorial restraint and is a beacon among a self-indulgent film industry that appears to be losing its ability to tell an authentic story with simple grace. 

See more of my NZME reviews here.