I remember seeing a trailer some time ago for this light-ish looking drama starring Steve Carell and Bryan Cranston, Last Flag Flying. And I was surprised because the trailer looked fun and entertaining, despite being about war and death.
When my husband and I saw that it had been added to Amazon Prime, we decided to give it a try, not really sure if it would actually be a heavy movie about death or a somehow funny one. Turns out, it’s both.
It’s About War, but a Lot More
It opens with Steve Carell’s character Larry (or “Doc”) walking into a bar that Bryan Cranston’s character Sal owns. And we quickly discover that the two knew each other years ago.
Doc seems to be a bit of a loser, and we find out that the two served in Vietnam together (the movie’s setting is early 2000’s), but that Doc took the fall for something bad that went down and ended up doing time in the brig.
And now, years later, it seems Doc’s only son has died serving in Iraq. With Doc’s wife also having died a few years ago, he is now alone as he’s about to go meet his son’s casket. So he’s gone in search of his old war buddies to join him.
Beside Sal, there was another in their tight-knit group, a guy they called Mueller (played by Laurence Fishburne), who is now the Reverend Richard Mueller.
These three men set off on a road trip, filled with painful reminiscences of their past, barbs at one another and their current conflicting lifestyles; and somber contemplation of country, war, and death.
It’s More Entertaining than You’d Think
I don’t think the premise shouts, “Compelling!” But it is. Partially from pretty tight writing, and of course the three leads are all very solid actors.
The film has heavy moments, black humor, and a lot to say about the point of war. And I like that its conclusion seems to be that, whatever mixed motives our government might at times have for entering a war, the sincerity and bravery of those individuals fighting is something that deserves respect.
Also, though it seems more a secondary point of the story, there is quite a bit of discussion about God and religion. Sal is extremely non-religious, and of course the reverend is on the opposite end of the spectrum, with Doc somewhere in between. At times the discussion feels a little irreverent, but I found the clash of viewpoints to actually be a pretty interesting way to feature a religious discussion without shoving religion down the viewer’s throat.
And the film’s treatment of guilt and regret, as the men gradually reveal to the viewer just what they had done as a group to land Doc in the brig a few decades ago, is quite well done.
My one complaint, quality-wise, was that a few of the dialogue-heavy scenes did feel a little long and meandering, but this wasn’t a huge issue.
The R Rating
Mostly it’s for language — quite a few F words and lesser profanities throughout.
Other than that, the only thing is a discussion with a younger soldier, in which the three older men are talking about their time in Vietnam. They discuss how they visited prostitutes, and the discussion goes on quite a bit longer and in more detail than I’d really like to hear.
The only other moral qualm I had with it is that, at one point, the question of whether it’s better to lie to someone to preserve their feelings or not gets a little messy. A small issue, but as a whole the story had a pretty mixed message on that, I felt.
This was a lot more entertaining and insightful a film than the premise seems to suggest. Do we really want to watch a movie about war-death? If that’s all it is, not really. But there’s a lot more to this one. I felt it was a pretty worthwhile watch.