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Review: Linklater’s road reunion movie Last Flag Flying is too trite

PUBLISHED: 10:57 26 January 2018 | UPDATED: 10:57 26 January 2018

Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying. Photo: Allstar/Amazon Studios

Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying. Photo: Allstar/Amazon Studios

Allstar/Amazon Studios

Richard Linklater follows Boyhood with this road movie and knowing tribute to Hal Ashby’s 1970’s classic The Last Detail, with Steve Carell roping in Veitnam War buddies Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne on a journey to bury his soldier son.

Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying. Photo: Allstar/Amazon StudiosBryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying. Photo: Allstar/Amazon Studios

Last Flag Flying (15)

**

Richard Linklater has often been a groundbreaking director in the past – pioneering rotoscope animation in A Scanner Darkly, shooting a film over 12 years for Boyhood. Here his innovation is to make the first road movie that looks like it was based on a stage play.

It’s 2007 and Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell play three Vietnam vets who reunite after decades apart to meet the body of Carell’s son, who is being shipped back from Iraq.

As they yack and drink and hijinks their way cross country in Trains, Rental Trucks and Automobiles, and take their own sweet time doing so, we are invited to reflect on the recurrent lies of US foreign policy: members of a previous generation of young men who had been sent off to fight in a foreign land intersecting with the latest to do so.

Bryan Cranston as Sal Nealon in Last Flag Flying. Photo: Allstar/Amazon StudiosBryan Cranston as Sal Nealon in Last Flag Flying. Photo: Allstar/Amazon Studios

Linklater’s is a thematic sequel to the Hal Ashby’s 1973 classic The Last Detail. In that two navy lifers (Jack Nicholson and Otis Young) escort a naive and innocent young sailor to the military prison in Portsmouth to serve two years after being court martialled for a trivial offence.

Here the youngest member of the group, Carell, had served a similar sentence in the brig, taking the rap for an escapade they had all pulled.

The film is co-scripted with Linklater by Daryl Ponicsan, who wrote the novel Last Detail was based on and if you know the film you will spot little allusions to it throughout: same locations, same character dynamic, same sweary badinage, same cold weather. Carell’s moustache even looks like a homage to the one Nicholson had in the original.

The difference is that The Last Detail had three knock out performances and a tremendous script by Robert Towne that produced something real and painful. This though is trite and empty.

Carell is very effective as the timid, devoted father. He seems to be rejigging some of the mannerism of his Brick Tamland character from the Anchorman films. Carell can be grating in dramatic roles but his restraint is touching here. Fishburne just about breaks even as a wild man turned preacher but Cranston really flounders in the Nicholson role, unable to give us anything but a boorish windbag.

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