Last Flag Flying

Directed by Golden Globe-winning director Richard Linklater who is best known for the Academy Award-winning 2014 movie Boyhood and 1993’s Dazed and Confused, Last Flag Flying is a well-crafted and very human film that explores grief and war with powerful moments of raw emotion and levity brought to life by the extremely talented cast. Steve Carell plays former Navy Corps medic Richard “Doc” Shepherd who reunites with former Marines Sal Nealon, played by Bryan Cranston, and Richard Mueller, played by Laurence Fishburne, after he learns his son was killed in Iraq serving as a Marine. Clearly broken by the Vietnam War and the recent passing of his wife and now son, Doc contacts the two other men that he served with decades prior in Vietnam as a means of coping with the profound grief of losing his son to war. We first meet the rambunctious and wisecracking Sal overseeing his dive bar and then the soft-spoken and reformed Mueller presiding over his congregation as a Baptist minister. Eventually, Doc persuades the two very different men to pick up his son’s body from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and take him back home in New Hampshire to be buried instead of Arlington National Cemetery. Over the course of the journey, the middle-aged men reminisce about their time as soldiers in the Vietnam War and try to rectify their prior sins. Underscoring the mixed human emotions experienced in one’s life, the characters, especially the irreverent Sal, share several moments of laughter and bonding time on their road trip despite the extremely depressing circumstances. They also grapple with their patriotism and pride of serving in the military at the same time that they disagree with the American government’s decisions to go to war in Vietnam and now Iraq. The movie works so well because of the very real chemistry that can be felt between all three brilliant actors who bring a certain level of humanity to what most people would expect to be just a sad and grim story about a father grieving over his son’s death. Overall, I found it to be an exceptional film that is both bittersweet and hopeful and provides important insights into the complexities of losing a loved one and the human toll caused by war, complete with heartwarming and heartwrenching moments. 

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