The Brave Die Young
Last Flag Flying
Stars: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, J. Quinton Johnson, Deanna Reed-Foster, Yul Vazquez and Cicely Tyson
Director: Richard Linklater
Scriptwriters: Richard Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan based on Ponicsan’s novel of the same name
Composer: Graham Reynolds
Cinematographer: Shane F. Kelly
Rating: R for profanity
Running Length: 124 Minutes
“Last Flag Flying” is a study of grief for the loss of a loved one. It is also a study in how much profanity can be in a film before the audience says “enough.” The story concerns a widower, who lost his only child---a son---to the war in Iraq. It is 2005. The son’s body is being brought home for burial and the father has no one close to help him. So he turns to two former Marine buddies for assistance. What a choice and this is the story of past relationships, past grievances and a rocky present-day. Steve Carell plays Larry, the grieving father. Bryan Cranston is Sal, a bartender and owner of the profanity. An almost unrecognizable Laurence Fishburne plays Richard, who is now a minister and against profanity. You can see what is coming down the road here.
This is a dark movie in that the scenery is cloudy, damp and cold. Depressing scenery, depressing mood for the people involved. The film begins with Larry tracking down Sal, and at first, they don't recognize each other. It has been over 20 years. Sal is loud, chases the ladies, speaks before he thinks and every other word is inventive profanity. At first, Sal doesn't want to come along, but relents at the end when Larry says he has no one. Wife gone and now son gone. Larry works at a Naval Surplus Store. The third member of the group is Richard, and the men are amazed to find him in church, giving a sermon. Clearly, Richard is not happy to see them, though his thoughtful wife invites them for a meal. Sal’s profanity keeps coming out and Richard asks him to leave, but seeing Larry’s sad demeanor, agrees to listen to more of the story. In the end, Richard’s wife persuades Richard to accompany the men for a “proper burial” which he, as a pastor, can do. “Practice what you preach,“ she says to him. Off they go to Dover to meet the body, and also meet military red tape. It seems as though there is a problem as to what actually happened in Iraq. The soldier in attendance, Charlie (J. Quinton Johnson) was one of the son’s best friends. Remember that famous movie line? “The truth, you can't handle the truth.” Applies here, too, and now what to do? This is bonding for the men, and some of their dialogue---minus profanity, has humor. As for Richard and Sal, they have their confrontation and Fishburne steals the scene.
What is depicted in “Last Flag Flying” is unresolved grief. Larry for his wife and now, only son. Sal for his past and injuries and hasn't accomplished anything except run a bar. Richard, who has found a way to redeem himself for wrongs, by accepting religion and helping others. However, he has a constant reminder of military days---he walks with a cane. It takes a second glance to see Steve Carell under Larry’s moustache, and he plays this character as one hiding from the world. Carell lets body language act for him, and this is vague as the other two actors steal one scene after another. Bryan Cranston goes full force as Sal, with scruffy beard, ready to argue with anyone, harsh voice and he easily is the first person you notice in a scene. He is the one with the most dialogue and does that well. Laurence Fishburne believably plays a minister and with kindness, takes over calmly after Sal riles everyone up. He is the tallest of the group and the peacemaker. J. Quinton Johnson, as the young military officer, comes into his own about halfway through the film.
“Last Flag Flying” has a poignant look at military soldiers coming home in coffins, a burial service in full dress uniform and knowing that wars will continue. If you have had a member of your family perish in battle, bring hankie to this film. The intricacies of burying someone who died in battle can catch you unaware.
Copyright 2017 Marie Asner