“I thought we were going to a funeral,” says Reverend Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). “We are going to a funeral, just looks like it’s going to take a little longer to get there,” responds Sal (Bryan Cranston) as the former Marines opt to accompany their buddy Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd (Steve Carell) as he sets out to take his son home to bury him in the comedy/drama, Last Flag Flying.
In 2003, Larry hits the road to try and locate the old friends he served in Vietnam with over 30 years ago. He locates Sal first, finding him in a bar he now owns. After a night of drinking and reminiscing, Larry asks Sal to join him on a short trip. They drive to a church where they find Reverend Richard Mueller who also served with them in Vietnam. A surprised Mueller invites Sal and Larry back to his house for dinner.
Near the end of the meal, Larry reveals he sought out his old friends in the hopes they would go with him to Arlington to bury his son who died in action in the Iraq war. Sal, annoyed by Mueller’s holier-than-thou attitude, tells Larry he can’t offer him comforting words but he can and will help him bury his boy. After a short conversation with his wife, the reluctant Reverend also agrees to accompany his friends on the trip.
Once they arrive at Arlington, Larry, Sal, and Richard are surprised to learn some upsetting facts about how Larry’s son died. Larry decides not to bury him at Arlington after all, but instead wants to take his body in the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire – a road trip that’s only possible with the help of his friends.
Heartfelt and at times very funny, Last Flag Flying is a touching and thought-provoking comedy/drama that’s elevated by the three excellent performances delivered by Carell, Fishburne, and Cranston. It’s a moving film that focuses on friendship, family, patriotism, and honor.
Cranston practically steals the film as the salty, crass, bar-owning former Marine, Sal. Sal’s obnoxious, loud, and drinks way too much, but is always steadfast to his friends in need. The scene in which he tells Larry, after hearing about his son’s death, he’ll help him bury his boy is pitch perfect and shows just how loyal and good-hearted Sal really is.
Carell delivers an extremely effective and understated performance as Larry, the loving father who’s in shock over the news of losing his son and is in desperate need of his former Marine friends’ company to get his boy home where he belongs. There’s a terrific scene with Carell’s Larry explaining to Cranston’s Sal and Fishburne’s Richard why he really looked them up. It’s so powerfully and realistically presented it’s sure to cause a lump in your throat. (It did in mine.)
Fishburne has the lighter, more fun role of Reverend Mueller who’s not proud of his past and the things he did in Vietnam but is proud that he served. His scenes with Cranston as the two get on each other’s nerves and bicker gives the somber film the lift and humor needed to keep it from being too heavy-handed of a drama.
The writing is strong and the dialogue is realistic, with some very funny lines as well as a few heart-wrenching ones. The music used in the film helps set and keep the mood without ever becoming intrusive or overwhelming. With three stand-out performances, some funny moments as well as a few heartbreaking ones, Last Flag Flying is a touching, provocative film that shouldn’t be missed.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout including some sexual references
Running Time: 124 minutes
Directed By: Richard Linklater