Veterans confront another America gripped by war

Last Flag Flying is a story about men from an old war colliding into men conducting a newer one, a conflict just as bloody and morally ambiguous as the one they experienced long ago.
Last Flag Flying is a story about men from an old war colliding into men conducting a newer one, a conflict just as bloody and morally ambiguous as the one they experienced long ago.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

REVIEW / DRAMA

LAST FLAG FLYING (NC16)

125 minutes/Opens today/ 3 stars

The story: In 2003, three middle-aged veterans of the Vietnam War - Doc (Steve Carell), Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard (Laurence Fishburne) - go on a road trip. They want to escort the body of Doc's son, a soldier killed in the Iraq war, to his funeral. Along the way, they wrestle with unresolved problems in their past as soldiers, while dealing with bureaucrats obstructing Doc's unorthodox plans.

This is a story about men from an old war colliding into men conducting a newer one, a conflict just as bloody and morally ambiguous as the one they experienced long ago.

The result is a "compare and contrast" experiment, one that feels unevenly paced and soft in focus because ideas that might have worked on the pages of its source book have not translated well into film.

In a loosely scripted series of events, made up of long scenes filled with free-flowing, naturalistic dialogue, the older men confront a post-9/11 America gripped by a mood they know well. The same mood sent them to Indochina decades ago.

For Doc and company, it is a time to sympathise with - and also fight - the men from the current war, while reflecting on sins they committed during the time they served.

Linklater co-wrote the screenplay with Darryl Ponicsan, who also wrote the novel on which the film is based.

The book is a sequel of sorts to Ponicsan's first novel, The Last Detail, which was the basis of an acclaimed 1973 film of the same name.

Topics such as the unquestioned respect for the military and whether the war in Iraq is justified are unfortunately never tackled head-on. The older men are disillusioned with people who run the systems, not the systems themselves.

In films such as Oscar-winning coming-of-age drama Boyhood (2014) and teen drama-comedy Everybody Wants Some!! (2016), it is clear that Linklater wants to love all his characters, and for audiences to love them too.

With a film that deals with such high stakes - the death of a son and ceaseless war - that even-handed approach feels misplaced.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline 'Veterans confront another America gripped by war'. Print Edition | Subscribe