Richard Linklater is back in the director’s chair for his latest film, concluding his unofficial trilogy of “life” with Last Flag Flying, bringing together a stellar ensemble for a road trip comedy all about friendship, family, and getting old.

Boyhood courted childhood to adolescence, Everybody Wants Some followed up with the middle-aged college years, and Last Flag Flying peers into older age to round off Linklater’s unofficial trilogy of life and growing up and it may be one of the director’s best films in some time. The story reunites 3 ex-Marines – Sal (Bryan Cranston), Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), and Doc (Steve Carrell) – after 30 years when Doc’s son is killed in the Iraq War and he wants some company on his trip to bring his young Marine home and give him a proper burial. Linklater is one of the best directors working today, having created some of the best films of this decade and Last Flag Flying is another triumphant addition to his impressive canon of work. This is a deeply poignant and sobering story of friendship, morality and solidarity that brings together three alienated souls in the fall-out of war and imbues honesty and melancholy into their 30-year struggle with their actions in the War. It is simplistic, funny and stirring in its nature and anchored by a terrific trio of actors with effervescent camaraderie – i.e. it’s typical Linklater: a very human film.
Considered a spiritual successor to Hal Ashby’s 1973 The Last Detail, the similarities between the pair are evident. But given that Linklater is perhaps one of the strongest directors out there for his work with character, it’s fitting that he steps up to the mantle for this. Like The Last Detail, Last Flag Flying is a story of people – flawed humans that, like you or I, don’t always say the right thing; they don’t always know what to do; they just want to do what’s best for their friends and family – and not focused on the action or political agenda of warfare. It keeps the bullets tucked up its sleeve for long, unbroken scenes of talking, silence and reminiscing between these three-men with their unspoken bond and trust keeping them together. Whilst not too fixated on plot, very much just a free-wheeling story of tragedy, it’s the quieter character beats in which Last Flag Flying makes its mark and soars. The camaraderie between our leading trio is so superbly realised and entertaining to watch – the quick-witted jibes; the moral and religious clashes; the sarcastic jabs; the quiet reflection – and there is such veritable chemistry between the actors; their friendship can be felt, the years and the history between them is so believable.

The film does take a while to find its footing, though. Fishburne and Carrell play gloomier, quieter characters than Cranston’s youthful, spirited Sal and, for a while, it feels as though it’s just his bounciness carrying the film and dragging the other pair. But when the film really picks up, everything falls into place and the dynamics and relations heighten and Linklater’s magic really begins to seep in. It’s a simmering film that is unflashy and simple, but the writing is so sharp and nuanced and the characters so honest and likeable that the warmth really radiates from within the screenplay and the performances. Last Flag Flying is funny, heartfelt and poignant – permeated with a touching, heart-breaking melancholic edge to it. Cranston, Carrell, and Fishburne are all on top form here and their electric, subtle dynamic is riveting to watch and, honestly, I could have sat for hours watching these friends just chat. Which is the biggest praise I can give this film. Richard Linklater has triumphed again and Last Flag Flying is an excellent, reflective piece.

Richard Linklater imbues Last Flag Flying with such veritable heart and melancholy to create a sobering, reflective, and poignant story about friendship and the fall-out of war, anchored by a terrific and very understated leading trio.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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