Richard Linklater brings pages to life from Darryl Ponicsan’s novel Last Flag Flying. I didn’t know much about the film before watching and was surprised at how this harrowing story took me down a strange winding road. The film was directed by Richard Linklater, co-written by Richard Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan, and produced by Ginger Sledge and John Sloss.
The story begins when Larry “Doc” Shephard (Steve Carrell) tracks down an old marine Vietnam War buddy named Sal Nealan (Bryan Cranston). They reminisce about the good old days in the service and attempt to play catch up. Sal surprises Doc and takes him to a church where their old marine pal Richard Mueller “the Mauler” (Lawrence Fishburn) has traded his waywardness for religion by becoming a man of the cloth. During an invitation to dinner, Doc explains that his wife has died of cancer and his son has been killed on active duty as a marine during the Iraqi War (2003).
Doc asks Sal and Mueller to accompany him on a trip to see his son off. Mueller is hesitant to go because Sal is still a trouble maker. However, his wife, Ruth (Deanna Reed-Foster) convinces him to do the “Christian thing” and help a friend in need. Upon arrival, Sal discovers from an active marine (Dontez James), that Larry, Jr. was killed after picking up school supplies/making a run for Cokes for his fellow mates. An Iraqi fundamentalist shoots and kills Larry, Jr., making his facial appearance unrecognizable. When Doc hears the real story, he decides to take his son back home with him to be buried alongside his wife.
Doc becomes disgusted with the government and wants to bury his son at home instead of Arlington Cemetery. He receives some harsh resistance from Col. Willits (Yul Vazquez) and Reverend Mueller steps in to help release the body to Doc. On their journey back home, the three men encounter a few more hiccups. Although very distraught, Doc finds the courage to see his mission to the end. His friends support his decisions and provide peace and comfort while accompanying him on his travels.
This film has great story telling and offers the right balance of drama and comedy. This is one story that needed to be told. Fighting for one’s country is a noble and honorable thing. However, enduring the consequences of serving in a war that people question is also devastating, even if the war is justified. This film delves into issues of religion, sacrifice, and honor. Also on the journey, the men come to grips with their guilt about the death of a former mate because of their defiance of the rules.
This was a wonderful telling story of men of honor and courage that served their time. This film speaks about depth of character and standing one's ground, qualities that some people will never possess. Although only 14 years ago, this was a different time. That is why this film is a treasure. Movies about men of valor that serve in the military are timeless. They have learned valuable lessons and passed them on to the children of the next generation. Bryan Cranston, Lawrence Fishburn, Steve Carrell, Yul Vazquez, and Cicely Tyson give great performances. This film was distributed by Amazon Studios and Lionsgate. Overall, Last Flag Flying is a gripping tear jerker and one of the best screenplays of the year. I would recommend seeing this film. I give it 4 stars out of 4.