Last Flag Flying is a movie in search of breeze

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Last Flag Flying
Opens Friday 8

2.5 out of 5

Richard Linklater is a difficult director to pigeonhole. His previous three films could be respectively described as the ultimate coming-of-age movie (Boyhood), a jock manifesto (Everybody Wants Some!!) and a portrait of a relationship’s demise that leaves the audience bruised (Before Midnight).

The one thing they all have in common is a humanistic approach: there are no villains in a Linklater movie, just flawed people.

Last Flag Flying fits the profile. Described as a spiritual sequel to Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, the film follows Doc (a subdued Steve Carell) as he attempts to recruit former Vietnam buddies Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard (Laurence Fishburne) for a road trip. It’s 2003, 9/11 is still a searing wound in America’s psyche and Doc’s only son has just being killed in Iraq.

Outside the mission at hand — burying Doc’s kid — there’s plenty of unfinished business between the former comrades in arms: Doc took the rap for all three for a misdemeanor, which meant two years in the clink; Sal and Richard picked different paths and are in constant conflict, yet are connected by a constant feeling of anger. None of them are particularly fond of the military, although they remember their time in uniform warmly.

The trio’s adventure is closer to a dark journey of the soul than a Hangover-style romp, but all three leads mix levity into the pathos. Carell is the standout: unlike in Foxcatcher — his hammy dramatic showcase — his performance here is organic as a shell of a man slowly coming into his own.

Overall however, Last Flag Flying doesn’t add up to much. It flirts with comedy and drama without committing to either. The anti-war stance is timid and the pointless, circular rambling gets tired.

There’s nothing intrinsically bad about Last Flag Flying. It just doesn’t catch much wind.