CREDIT: Wilson Webb/Lionsgate

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Richard Linklater

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: R for Dropping Some Profanity with Your Buds

Release Date: November 3, 2017 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide November 17, 2017

Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying is a sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 film The Last Detail, but you wouldn’t know that from any of the promotional materials, which make no mention of the earlier flick. You also wouldn’t know it from looking at the character names, which are not consistent between the two films. I have not seen The Last Detail, but as far as I can gather, Bryan Cranston is playing a version of a character played by Jack Nicholson, Laurence Fishburne is doing a spin on Otis Young, and Steve Carell is updating a role by (of all people) Randy Quaid. Anyway, as for the actual narrative of Last Flag Flying, all this background info is basically just as a curiosity, as this unofficial sequel stands perfectly well enough on its own.

If you were to go into Last Flag Flying completely unaware of The Last Detail (and presumably many people will), you would possibly find yourself thinking, “Hey! There’s plenty of room to craft a prequel out of this story.” Vietnam War veterans Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Carell), Sal Nealon (Cranston), and Richard Mueller (Fishburne) are psychologically torn asunder but forever bound by an incident at the end of their time in the same Marine unit. Doc committed a petty crime, Sal and Mueller helped discipline him, and he spent a couple years in a military prison. There is no ill will between the three of them, but they have gone decades without seeing each other. Now they are reuniting in a way that reunions so often unfortunately happen. Doc’s son has followed his father into the Marines, enlisting for the Iraq War, where he has died in an ambush. With few close family or friends, Doc turns to his old service buddies to help escort his son’s body to the funeral.

What follows is a trip from Virginia to New Hampshire. Instead of wide open shots of the open road we get cramped moments along the heavily trafficked Mid-Atlantic and northeast United States. Also, talking. Lots and lots of talking. Doc, Sal, and Mueller shoot the shit, air out grievances, ask pressing philosophical questions about their country and life and death, and generally strengthen an eternal bond of friendship.

While it may not necessarily be their most well-known trademark, all three stars are notable for their oratory. Just consider Cranston’s deadly commands as Walter White, Carell’s wild verbal dexterity in the likes of The Daily Show and Bruce Almighty, or Fishburne’s spellbinding declarations in The Matrix. For the most part, Last Flag plays its conversations in a much more mild key than those examples, but the effects are still quite pressing. There are questions about the point of even venturing into Iraq. It’s still 2003, thus before the falsification of evidence that led to this war has fully been revealed, so these worries are not about especially particular objections, but they are no less pressing. Running through the bloodstream of this film is a very human desire for simple respect, to be told straight what is actually going on. Last Flag Flying is for anyone who values forthrightness, and for anyone who can share in the joy of three middle-aged guys buying their very first cell phones in the middle of Manhattan.

Last Flag Flying is Recommended If You Like: The Big Chill, My Dinner with Andre, Catching up with old friends.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Black Men Named Richard