Terrific performances by Bryan Cranston (Sal Nealon), Steve Carell (Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd) and Laurence Fishburne (Mueller) form the backbone of this moving and heart-warming account of three Vietnam veterans on a quest for the truth.
From the director of Boyhood, Richard Linklater, Last Flag Flying is the story of what really happened to Larry’s 21-year-old son Larry Jnr, who according to authorities, was tragically killed in action in Iraq.
The movie is set mainly in Virginia on America’s East coast in 2003, towards the end of the Iraqi war.
When Larry hears about his son he is, of course, devastated.
The news is also even more painful as Larry Jnr’s death occurs only a few months after the death of Larry’s wife.
However, rather than wallowing in self-pity, Larry decides to enlist the support of two of his former Marine Navy buddies who he has not seen for 30 years.
Naturally, all of their lives have changed significantly since Vietnam, with the hard-drinking and ever-partying Sal now running a seedy backstreet bar.
Larry’s other Navy buddy Mueller has had a rather different ‘reincarnation’ and is now a fully-fledged preacher with his own loyal congregation.
However, this does not deter Larry who is determined to bring his son’s body back to their hometown in Portsmouth, Virginia, rather than have him buried with a ‘heroes funeral’ at Arlington.
The real charm of this film lies in the chemistry between the three main characters who on the surface are so dissimilar, yet by the film’s end, unite to share the same principles.
Emotions run high when Larry and his two mates arrive at Andrews Air Force base near Washington to discover the Navy’s plans for his son.
Sal’s answer to any problem is to ‘drown his sorrows’, while preacher Mueller turns to God for inspiration.
Larry however, stands up firmly to the Navy Colonel in charge, who continues to insist on Larry Jnr being buried with full military honours.
‘It is the right and proper thing to do,’ he says.
But the three former marines have other ideas and instead hire a ‘U-Haul’ removal van, determined to transport the coffin themselves back to Portsmouth.
In one of the movie’s funniest scenes, Mueller is mistaken for a Moslem ‘Mullah’ by the van bookings’ clerk and the FBI are soon involved, pulling over the van and demanding proof of identity.
There are many other comic moments in this film, which despite its sad proposition, is by no means morbid or gloomy.
Indeed, the overriding theme is one of inspiration, especially at the end.
Another theme in Last Flag Flying is the strength of mateship and loyalty over authority.
Other themes include the futility of war, and uncovering ‘the lie’ versus what really happened.
Finally and as mentioned earlier, the main characters themselves are portrayed so well that their performances alone make this movie worth seeing.
Last Flag Flying is showing from April 25 at Luna Leederville.
By Mike Peeters