Richard Linklater has been a competent and amazing film director since the 90s. For many , he captured a superb independent voice that has carried on through the years. From Before Sunrise to Everybody Wants Some!, Linklater has provided either stoner coming of age comedies or a poetic and intricate look at humanity.
His biggest and most ambitious work was the glorious Boyhood which he filmed, with the same actors, over twelve consecutive years. For many, it is sadly missing the Academy Awards it deserves (not me, I’m Team Birdman,) but it will stand as an evocative piece of work on the big screen.
Now he returns with Last Flag Flying and, honestly, it is a disappointing effort form the director.
Last Flag Flying revolves around three army friends, Larry, Sal, and Richard, who have not seen each other since an incident whilst they were serving. Spurred on by the death of his son Larry Jr, who was killed whilst actively serving as a marine, Larry turns up on the doorsteps of both Sal and Richard, asking for their help at the funeral. This leads the trio into a strange and emotional road trip.
Academy Award nominated actors Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne all appear in this Linklater movie and their presence certainly adds weight to the movie. Cranston and Fishburne are adept performers, especially at conveying elder man plagued by the mistakes of their past and at conflict with themselves and the modern world. There are interesting moments and tid-bits as they traipse across America.
As good as Cranston and Fishburne are, however, this film belongs solely to Steve Carrell. When are we going to stop talking about him like he is a sole comedy actor? Because when he does drama, he does it so evocatively well. This has been going on since movie such as The Way Way Back and Little Miss Sunshine. Carrell brings a quiet nuance to a grieving father – a man plighted by the way his son died and wishing to give him the right burial., Carrell conveys a visceral pa in but mutes it in a human way. Larry tries to save face and keep it together, yet you can feel the emotions bubbling with every infliction, every poise, and every pause. It’s an incredible performance.
The biggest issue is that the film is that it doesn’t feel like a Linklater film. As intimate as the actors are, the overarching story is heavy-handed and predictable. Cranston’s character struggles from this the most – there is no address of his cocksure, racist, and dated attitudes and despite Cranston’s best efforts, the staleness is still there. The story is too long and highly unoriginal. It’s a sad shame as it feels underdeveloped and devoid of that special Linklater charm that flittered through a lot of his previous movies.
Last Flag Flying is worth seeing for Carrell alone but it’s lacking an important pull, leaving you restless and wanting
Last Flag Flying is out 26th January