In an alternate universe Richard Linklater won the Best Director Oscar for his audacious cinematic experiment, Boyhood. It would have been a fine reward for a director whose career is defined by an ability to make films that live and breathe his style. From rotoscope sci-fi nightmare A Scanner Darkly, through to family friendly comedy School of Rock, taking in his seminal Before Trilogy, he has fitted comfortably into several genres. And with Last Flag Flying he has produced a low key, soulful drama that looks back to cinema of the 70s as well as events that shaped the start of the 21st century.
A spiritual sequel to The Last Detail, a film famous as an early Jack Nicholson role, the film tells the story of three former soldiers who reunite to reclaim the body of one of their sons. Along the way it explores the loss of youth and delves into the sense that something has become broken in the American psyche. It is a fascinatingly nuanced exploration of the crisis of confidence that has come to taint the American Dream.
If Last Flag Flying is Linklater’s movie it is aided by a trio of exceedingly good performances. Bryan Cranston has the lion's share of the memorable lines as Sal, and the actor practically devours the scenery around him. It is a fun part for the former Walter White and it is clear he is having the time of hi life. Bringing gravitas to his role, Laurence Fishburne is great as soldier-turned-man of the cloth. And as the final part of the trio Steve Carrell demonstrates, once again, why he has so successfully managed to move away from the comedic roles that defined his early career. It is a touching performance, and could lead to another Oscar nomination for the actor.
The film moves at a slow pace, taking its time to explore the lives of these characters. And with such a strong central trio I, for the most part, tolerated this, even if it does make the film feel overstretched. There is an impact to proceedings, with the film choosing to focus on the themes it raises rather than speeding on to the next incident. It has a vibe that emulates 70s drama, a time capsule. But it also is about the issues affecting
Last Flag Flying isn't quite on the same level as Linklater's finest but is an effective, affecting drama. It's funny, moving, sharply observed and spikily enjoyable, with three very good performances that help elevate this film.
This is a London Film Festival preview and Last Flag Flying will be released at a later date.