Last Flag Flying is the latest from prolific director Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Dazed & Confused) and is his funniest film in a long while. The film centers on three men who once served in the Navy who are reunited after one of them, “Doc” (Steve Carell), seeks out the other two, Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), to help bury his son who died in Iraq.
When the three are reunited, humor abounds as Sal the rugged, vulgar, ‘seen it all’ is face to face with Mueller, now a pastor but known to Doc and Sal for his antics at whorehouses in Vietnam. They craft the demon and angel, respectively, on Doc’s shoulders as they stand aside Doc in overcoming his grief. Doc is soft-spoken throughout Last Flag Flying, but we get the sense that he had always been the most innocent and levelheaded of the three and yet the worst things always seem to happen to him. He lost his wife just earlier in the year.
Despite the hilarity of Last Flag Flying, the film dwells on the issue of an irrational world and the role that lying plays into it as a survival mechanism. Doc is hurt in the discovery that the government lied to him about the circumstances of his son’s death. To prevent the same from happening to a mother whose son died while serving with them, they visit her to tell her the truth about her son’s death but come into difficulties of their own during their visit.
We don’t know what we’re doing, the powers that be don’t know what they’re doing, and if we acknowledge both of these statements with friends at our side, it will be okay. This is the simple but sad message that Last Flag Flying conveys. The film shows how three very different individuals confront the fact that some things happen for no reason. Ultimately, Last Flag Flying might stand as a minor entry when stacked up against the many esteemed films in Linklater’s filmography, but it is still a worthy entry and not to be overlooked.