On this 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, Remembrance Day and Veterans Day (depending on the country you live in), I felt it was a good time to review some military-related films on this special day. Every Memorial Day and Veterans Day weekends, I typically spend those days watching my favorite military genre films and television shows. That lineup usually always features such greats as Saving Private Ryan, Band Of Brothers, The Pacific, Born On The Fourth Of July, Generation Kill and many others that I attempt to cram into one three-day weekend. This time around, I thought I’d try some post-war dramas that seemed worthy of being reviewed. The first of those is 2017’s Last Flag Flying, starring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne.
Last Flag Flying takes place in 2003 and tells the story of former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Carell), who reunites with his old buddies from Vietnam, former Marines Sal Nealon (Cranston) and Reverend Richard Mueller (Fishburne), to bury his son who was killed in Iraq. Nealon and Mueller reminisce on their time together in the service and attempt to comfort Shepherd as he comes to terms with his son’s passing.
Co-written and directed by Richard Linklater (Boyhood, School Of Rock, Dazed And Confused) and based off of the novel by Darryl Ponicsan (Random Hearts, School Ties), Last Flag Flying is a personal look on a parent dealing with the loss of his only child. Carell, who continues to excel in his recent dramatic performances, does a superb job of portraying a grieving father who rides the line of emotions between finding moments of joy with his old friends, sadness over his deceased son and rage at a government that has once again decided to send young men and women to their deaths in an unpopular war. Delivering a balance of opposing outlooks as a foul-mouthed, rebellious bartender and a faithfully devoted leader of a congregation, Cranston and Fishburne disappear into their roles, exchanging witty banter with each other while providing those shoulders to cry on when need be. With Carell’s Shepherd, these three amazing thespian talents give exquisite performances as aging warriors of a controversial military campaign from the past tasked with the heartbreaking mission of burying the fallen soldier of what some may call a present-day Vietnam.
Linklater allows his script and his cast to tell the story, keeping the focus on these three men and avoiding any flashy transitions or edits. Each scene, from Shepherd’s first meeting with Nealon to the final shot of the three men together, captures the rawness of each character. The story isn’t designed to change your opinion on the war, but to create empathy for a father who is laying to rest his own son and a sympathetic understanding for veterans proud of their military lineage while critical of their government’s choices in wars. In the end, Linklater’s film beautifully tells three different stories: veterans still wrestling with the physical and emotional side-effects of Vietnam, a parent saying one last goodbye to their only child and three old friends being there for each other when they each needed it.
Last Flag Flying is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and is available to rent or purchase on the Apple iTunes store. If you’re looking for a story about aging warriors and the personal obstacles they contend with years after their service has ended, presented by a talented filmmaker and three A-list stars delivering exquisite performances, this film should be added to your queue.