Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell, J. Quinton Johnson, Deanna Reed-Foster, Yul Vazquez, Graham Wolfe, Jeff Monahan, Cicely Tyson
Written by: Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan, based on a novel by Darryl Ponicsan
Directed by: Richard Linklater
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout including some sexual references
Running Time: 124
Date: 11/03/2017

Last Flag Flying (2017)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Casket Grace

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Without a doubt one of the best filmmakers of our time, Richard Linklater has returned with another winner; this extremely funny, deeply affecting comedy-drama about loss and regret is handled with genuine simplicity and sincerity.

In Last Flag Flying, former Navy Corps medic Larry "Doc" Shepherd (Steve Carell) arrives in a bar. It's 2003, and the bar is owned by an old friend, ex-Marine Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston). After a night of drinking, Doc takes Sal to see another old friend, another ex-Marine, Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), who is now a reverend at a church.

The three men once served together in Vietnam, and now Doc has a favor to ask. He wants his friends to come with him to claim the body of his dead son, killed in the Iraq War. After learning how his son really died, Doc decides not to bury him in Arlington Cemetery and asks his friends to help take him home to New Hampshire. Along the way, the trio shares memories, laughs, tears, and regrets.

Ever unpredictable, but always concerning himself with profoundly human stories, Linklater (Bernie, Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!!) looks to a novel by Darryl Ponicsan, whose The Last Detail inspired a much-loved 1973 movie by Hal Ashby. Last Flag Flying is similar in character and structure, and surely many will find the new movie wanting, but both are equally great.

With deceptive ease, Linklater builds each scene filled with talk, and yet the movie never seems too talky. (Think of the captivating conversations in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight.) Its humble design takes advantage of winter time (and Christmas) but takes place in trains, cars, waiting rooms, bars, and other ordinary locations. (Only the giant airplane hangar filled with military coffins stands out.)

This atmosphere helps draw the characters together, and thanks to three great performances — for once it's possible to forget all about Walter White while watching Bryan Cranston — they effortlessly make us laugh and cry. Best of all, I wanted to keep spending time with them, and I didn't want to see them go.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release is just special enough that it might warrant this movie a second look; it was unfairly overlooked during its theatrical run. The transfer is bold and strong, emphasizing a darkish, wintry look, and with effective audio. Extras include a fairly average featurette with talking heads and clips, a 9-minute collection of outtakes with the actors breaking up, and about 5 minutes of pretty good deleted scenes. There's also a very moving featurette about how the production shote casket sequence on Veterans Day, and what that meant. There are also trailers at startup. It includes a digital copy, but no DVD, and no commentary track.

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