On paper, Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying looks like a winner. However, the actual film is a hit and miss affair, despite the talent involved.
Thirty years after they served in Vietnam together, Doc seeks out his old army buddies Sal and Richard. As they reunite, Doc tells his old friends the reason he looked them up. Doc needs their support for a difficult task…
Written by Richard Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan (based on Ponicsan’s novel), Last Flag Flying is drama about grief and friendship, set on the background of war and military service. Linklater’s film features a number of the director’s hallmarks. Last Flag Flying is dialogue-driven, and is filmed in his unobtrusive style.
The narrative focuses on the reuniting of the trio and the task of taking a body home for burial. There is plenty of room to chew the fat on this journey, and Linklater uses this to pontificate more than to develop. Doc, Sal, and Richard are presented as archetypes; they are given distinct personalities but there is no real development beyond what viewers first see. The film’s dialogue is natural, and there is a level of intimacy which is very effective at times. Linklater successfully conveys both grief and futility in one of the film’s key sequences.
At other times, however, Last Flag Flying flails instead of enthralling its viewers. There are some scenes which offer little in terms of plot or character development. This makes the film feel longer than it should. Furthermore, there are attempts to introduce more narrative elements as the film progresses. These are hit and miss; the colonel and his orders seem an unnecessary addition to the final third of the film. Performances from Steve Carrel, Laurence Fishburne, and Bryan Cranston are great.
Last Flag Flying offers decent dialogue and blends drama and comedy well overall. But ultimately, the film lacks sharpness. This would have been welcome in both narrative and thematic terms.