By: Jeff Graham
Richard Linklater doesn’t make a bad film. His directorial sensitivity and attention to detail are unparalleled, which promises that any Linklater joint will have at least two or three achingly beautiful scenes. Few directors are able to capture the truth and awkwardness of being alive. His characters always talk, act, and laugh like real people. Seeing a Linklater film reminds us of how rare, and challenging, this actually is in filmmaking.
That being said, Last Flag Flying is a weaker entry in Linklater’s oeuvre. The film is often aimless, and not in that charming Dazed and Confused way. Rather, Last Flag Flying feels – at best – mistakenly loose, and – at worst – haphazard.
Let’s start with the good. This film is anchored by three powerhouse performances from the impossible-to-dislike trio of Steve Carell, Brian Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne. Even through some surprisingly miscalculated dialogue, the trio soars. In particular, I was very moved by Carell’s performance as Larry “Doc” Shepherd, a quiet, introspective veteran who has recently faced unbearable tragedy. His performance is very sweet and very sad. After having seen Carell, I truly can’t picture anyone else in the role.
Unfortunately, I found the film intermittently frustrating. Amidst fantastic performances and a scattershot collection of impeccable scenes, the movie is less than the sum of its parts. Narrative unsteadiness makes this movie feel more like a promising debut from a fresh new directorial voice than the 19th feature directed by an Oscar-winning powerhouse. Long stretches of this film feel like the TV-movie version of Richard Linklater.
For those, who love the personal, listless quality of Linklater’s quieter films, I’d highly recommend Last Flag Flying. Otherwise, I’d steer clear, and re-watch Boyhood. Or Waking Life. Or the Before trilogy. Or most other Linklater films.
★★★★★★ (6/10 Stars)