No stranger to making extraordinary films out of ordinary situations, Boyhood director Richard Linklater turns his gaze on the after-effects of war with Last Flag Flying, a road movie about a trio of ageing Vietnam veterans – played by Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston – who reunite to help Carell’s character, Doc, transport the body of his son home after he’s killed in Iraq in 2003.
As Doc gradually uncovers the truth about his son’s death, the film has a few interesting things to say about the cost of telling lies off the battlefield to justify actions on it. But any dramatic impetus is diminished by the film’s sheer conventionality. Though the source novel by Darryl Ponicsan (who co-wrote the script with Linklater) is a belated sequel to his earlier novel The Last Detail, any connection to the classic 1973 Hal Ashby film version is downplayed. That’s understandable, but reckoning with a classic in a meaningful way is the sort of thing Linklater is better equipped to pull off than most and yet he’s chosen to turn this instead into a sort of grumpy-old-man comedy that looks as if it could have been directed by anyone. Carell does do some nice, understated work as Doc, but Fishburne’s own Apocalypse Now connection remains unexploited and Cranston doesn’t so much chew the scenery as trough it like a starving man at an all-you-can-eat buffet.