It’s no secret that I’m a proud military brat who loves military action movies. It’s rare, however, that these two elements combine jovially, and there are always mixed feelings when I do. There is an aspect of enthusiasm because I love this type of action, but also of hesitation because I hardly ever watch a movie that represents my life in the military. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the central characters in these movies are the servicemen and women themselves, but those still are not soldiers I know. There are a few diamonds in the rough (Lone Survivor and Range 15), yet none seem as important as what Richard Linklater was able to present with Last Flag Flying.
Last Flag Flying is a heartbreaking story about a father who is going to bury his only son who was killed in action during the first year of Iraqi Freedom. Being a war veteran himself, having served in Vietnam, Doc (Steve Carell) enlists the help of his old war buddies Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to help ease the pain of the circumstances he now finds himself in. It has been 30 years since these men have interacted with each other, and while their paths took them in dramatically different directions, there is something about the military bond that never fades. These three men set off on a somber journey that will have lasting impressions on them all.
This brotherly bond, the intimacy veterans experience is hard to describe, even for someone who has witnessed it all their lives. There are no words that can express what these men and women mean to each other, yet when you see it you know. It has been captured in this film, bringing a sigh of relief that that connection has been portrayed with realism. Two generations of war veterans are showcased throughout this film, and while each one represents a different phase of our society, their underlining dedication remains the same.
The complexity that occupies these veterans is unique, often expressed in a multitude of behaviors. Sadly, most of them are stereotypical and negative, which continues to put a bad taste in my mouth. I understand that a lot of our returning service men and women have these issues, but that doesn’t mean we have to be bombarded with them at every turn. At times I think the over saturation ends up being a hinderance as it just opens wounds instead of making progress to treat these complications. Last Flag Flying is one of the only movies I have seen that I believe represent the veterans I hold dear.
For those of us that have older family members who served during the Vietnam era, you will be able to identify with the three main characters. Everyone deals with trauma and hardships differently, and we see that in this film. It’s not about showcasing a stereotype of what soldiers are, it’s about acknowledging their complexity. It is less about this self-imposed outwardly reputation of strength and more about the strength within.
One line in the film that has a giant impact, or should, is when Sal laments, “every generation has it’s war.” While the motives behind the occupations are diverse, the ones who serve are not. Culture and humanity may have changed, but the honor and soul of all soldiers have remained the same. These men and women are the bravest people I have ever met, and they are represented respectfully in this film.
The talents of Carell, Cranston, and Fishburne spans decades and genres, but none have been as tranquil as their performances in this film. Never once was the audience flabbergasted at the presence of their combined expertise, and there was no power play between them. Instead the complimentary energy created realism. These men’s performances are not over the top or statement making, they are fluid in their authenticity.
The wonderful thing about these characters was the combined forces that brought them together. As actors, they excelled at their profession, but they are nothing without a formidable script, which was co-written by Darryl Ponicsan and Linklater, and then the direction by Linklater himself. These strengths came together with such serenity to create an emotionally poignant film.
For me, the biggest thing that sticks out about this film is the way it honors the family. The central characters were veterans and the catalyst revolve around a soldier KIA, but the heart of the film surrounds the family left at home. The Homefront is unknown to many, the struggles between overflowing pride and dreadful fear are rarely seen. Last Flag Flying, however, does a substantial job at representing this diverse disposition. It’s not about the politically driven underlying topic of the film, or the conversations that can be opened because of it, but it is a film about a situation that all too many people in our society have faced, losing a loved one in war.
In many ways, this film is full of complexities that come together to produce a heartfelt impactful film. These complexities manifest in the world we live in, in the situations veterans and their families find themselves in, and the complexity of brotherhood, all shown with dignity and honor. In a way I’m jealous, for with Last Flag Flying, Linklater has made a military movie right.
Last Flag Flying is currently playing in limited theaters now, with a wider release date in the future.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Lionsgate