DIR: Richard Linklater • WRI: Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan • PRO: Richard Linklater, Ginger Sledge, John Sloss • DOP: Shane F. Kelly • ED: Sandra Adair • MUS: Graham Reynolds • DES: Bruce Curtis• CAST: Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell
With Last Flag Flying, Richard Linklater has supposedly made his second ‘spiritual sequel’ in a row. His 2016 effort Everybody Wants Some! captured the ‘spirit’ of his 1993 gem Dazed and Confused – taking its young, wild, stick-it-to-the-man attitude and translating them from Senior Year High School to Freshmen Year College, using different characters in the process. The complications behind the term ‘spiritual sequel’ are plenty and in any case Everybody Wants Some! is nowhere near as good a film as Dazed and Confused.
With Last Flag Flying, Linklater once again enters the murky waters of ‘spiritual sequel’. Last Flag Flying’s father film is Hal Ashby’s 1973 New American Cinema masterpiece The Last Detail, starring Jack Nicholson. The film had a sense of humanity and authenticity to it, two ingredients that can be found in abundance in most of Richard Linklater’s work. In The Last Detail, two sailors are tasked with escorting a younger subordinate to serve a harsh sentence in jail for a dishonourable discharge. The two sailors warm to the charming innocence of the other and endeavour to show the young man a good time before he spends some of his best years locked up.
The Last Detail is a true masterpiece and catching up with these characters 30 years on (Last Flag is set in 2003) in a film directed by Richard Linklater is a truly mouth-watering prospect. Unfortunately, this is a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. The names and personalities of the characters have been changed beyond recognition and perhaps most surprisingly, gone is the sense of humanity and authenticity. These sentiments are replaced by a politically charged agenda and characters cut out to meet certain political views of the Iraq war.
Steve Carrell plays Doc Shepard, a man who has lost his son to the war in Iraq. He seeks out Sal (Cranston) and Mueller (Fishburne), two of his Vietnam ‘buddies’ to accompany him while he travels to collect his son’s body. Those who are watching the film having already seen The Last Detail will spend your time wondering who is who in Last Flag Flying. Carrell’s Nicholson moustache is particularly jarring. In fact, it’s best to watch Last Flag Flying without having seen The Last Detail as the film pales in comparison in every single way.
It’s always difficult to balance comedy and tragedy but Last Flag Flying really messes up its tonal juggling act. It is contrived when it tries to be genuine and lacks any kind of comic punch. There is a running joke about mobile phones – because it’s 2003. The humour is reminiscent of recent low-brow aging actors behaving badly comedies such as Last Vegas (2013) and Going in Style (2017). Bryan Cranston is completely miscast as a disgruntled army veteran New Yorker with a drinking problem. Carrell under acts to the point where he sounds like Brick Tamland making a one-liner every time he enters the conversation. Laurence Fishburne fairs slightly better as a former wild-man turned Reverend but even that bit grows stale fairly fast. Sal and Mueller clash over politics and religion, sometimes the tone is serious sometimes more light-hearted. Doc, the one holding all the grief, plays referee and other times enlightens and sobers the ideals of the other two men.
Last Flag Flying is a road film, just like its predecessor. The difference is you feel like you want to be on the road with the characters in The Last Detail. You could imagine happily drinking in a shabby hotel room in your underwear with them. This is not the case with the aging characters in Last Flag Flying. You would want to run a mile from their preachy patriotism and scepticism of mobile phones and the internet. It just doesn’t feel like a Richard Linklater film. Gone is the subtlety in the dialogue. That doesn’t seem to be important in the script that he wrote with Darryl Poniscan, the author of both The Last Detail and Last Flag Flying. The message tries to be the important element here. This message of patriotism and what it means to fight for one’s country is mixed and problematic, especially in the film’s final act. It’s a film that doesn’t pick a side, much to its detriment.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Last Flag Flying is released 26th January 2018