One of the most compelling movies of 2017 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Last Flag Flying. Amazon Studios is known for creating high-quality original movies, like Gleason and the two-time Oscar-winner Manchester by the Sea, and this 2017 gem certainly belongs on that list. Directed and co-written by Richard Linklater, Last Flag Flying stars Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Darryl Ponicsan, and the author also co-wrote the screenplay.
With “fresh” scores from both audiences and critics alike, Rotten Tomatoes provides the premise for one of the best movies on Amazon Prime.
“In 2003, 30 years after they served together in the Vietnam War, former Navy Corps medic Richard ‘Doc’ Shepherd (Carell) reunites with Former Marines Sal (Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Fishburne) on a different type of mission: to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Doc decides to forgo a burial at Arlington Cemetery and, with the help of his old buddies, takes the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. Along the way, Doc, Sal and Mueller reminisce and come to terms with shared memories of the war that continues to shape their lives.”
If that plotline sounds heavy, no worries, it gets heavier. Not only is “Doc” facing the loss of his only child, he recently lost his wife as well. And while that all sounds very depressing, there is some levity in the film.
The movie begins with Richard Shepherd finding Sal Nealon at a bar that he owns and runs. After spending a night tying one on, “Doc” reveals that he has something to show Nealon. He then takes him to a local church, much to the dismay of Sal, and Nealon is shocked to see that Richard Mueller is now a reverend. The reverend invites the pair back to his home, and that’s when Carell’s character drops the heartbreaking news.
Nealon agrees right away to help Richard on his journey, and though he was reluctant at first, Mueller eventually agrees to join them. The banter between the trio is often a riot, especially between Cranston and Fishburne’s characters. While Richard has found a God-fearing life, Sal certainly has not. Bryan’s character is constantly provoking the reverend, and Laurence’s retorts are often gut-busting.
The three set out on a road trip, and they examine the effects of warfare both past and present. They contemplate the lack of purpose with the Vietnam War and question the purpose of current ones. They also reflect on their own lives, and a tragic decision the three of them made over 30-years ago. If you like soul searching movies, then this should be right up your alley.
The cast all deliver stunning performances. Steve Carell gives the performance of his career as Richard Shepherd. We see “Doc” try to desperately make sense of all his loss as he learns to lean on his friends. In some scenes, Carell is likely to make you cry because of his moving portrayal; in other scenes, he is likely to make you cry from laughter (but expect more of the former than the latter).
Per their usual, Fishburne and Cranston are captivating to watch. Their characters’ opposing ideological beliefs cause for intriguing conflict and conversations, but Linklater creates a nice balance and it never becomes overwhelming for the audience.
This is a story about grief, guilt, redemption, forgiveness, and learning to cope with the cruel realities that life can often bring us. And ultimately, this is a story about hope and the importance of never losing it. For those that have experienced painful tragedies, this film will likely serve as comfort.
With shining performances, great directing, and a story that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, Last Flag Flying is one of the best movies of 2017.