Friday, September 29, 2017

NYFF Spotlight: Last Flag Flying

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 55th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 15th.

Last Flag Flying
Directed by Richard Linklater
NYFF Opening Night Selection

Cranston, Carell, and Fishburne star in the film

Coming home from war is not an easy thing, and adjusting back to civilian life can be fraught with difficulty. Yet there’s also no point at which things magically return to normal and, even if they do, no point at which they’re not subject to bubble up to the surface again. The enlistment of a child in the military is one example of how everything previously forgotten can be dredged up again, and the unthinkable event of a child being killed in action is a particularly harrowing circumstance where thinking back to what it was like “over there” becomes entirely unavoidable.

Fishburne and Cranston at a press conference for the NYFF premiere

Mild-mannered Larry Shepherd (Steve Carell) tracks down his old Marine buddies Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), who runs a bar where he basically never stops drinking, and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), who has departed from his crazy partying ways and settled down to become a reverend. Larry tells the friends he has not seen in decades that, just months after the death of this wife from cancer, his son has been killed in Iraq. Eager for companionship, especially from those who understand what he has been through, Larry asks Sal and Richard to join him as they escort the body of his son home with the help of his friend Washington (J. Quinton Johnson), meditating on what they did when they were at war and how it has affected them throughout the journey.

Screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan, Fishburne, Cranston, Johnson, and Linklater at a press conference for the NYFF premiere

“Last Flag Flying,” despite its devastating subject matter, is a film laced with a great deal of humor. Much of that is due to the casting of three actors well known for their sitcom work. Director Richard Linklater notes that humor is important because it’s so real, and that every job anyone has ever been in has humor if looked at through the right lens. Johnson explains that humor is what makes the tragedy palatable, a way to preserve your humanity by not letting tragedy take it out of you. Cranston recalls being furious as a child at his grandfather’s wake because people were telling stories and laughing, and he now sees that people grieve in different ways. Carell and Fishburne fit their parts well, and Cranston steals the show as the hard-drinking Sal who never just wants to go with the flow. Though they’re being campaigned for it, these don’t seem much like Oscar-caliber performances, though Cranston’s turn is quite good.

Cranston at a press conference for the NYFF premiere

The quality of the performances is on par with the film as a whole, which proves highly entertaining due to the writing and the execution of the script by the actors, but isn’t an overly memorable or impactful commentary on war and its implications. Fishburne claims that there aren’t a lot of war movies about the people who are left behind after they return from service, but “The Lucky Ones” and “Handsome Harry,” just to name two that immediately come to mind, have covered this territory. Linklater was also asked about whether the American flag that adorns the coffin has special meaning now, to which he replied that his film is “so far from the ridiculousness of what’s happening with that conversation now.” This film was certainly made more quickly than Linklater’s last big hit, the epic “Boyhood,” though it does serve as a sequel of sorts to the 1973 Oscar nominee “The Last Detail” starring Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid. Overall, this is a perfectly good film, and one that is likely do well with audiences.


No comments: