Last Flag Flying doesn't rank among Director Richard Linklater's best films, but with strong performances by Steve Carrell, Laurence Fishburne, and – particularly – Bryan Cranston, it's hard not to like this movie, which – despite its serious themes – turns out to be a "buddy" road picture. As is usually the case with a Lionsgate release, the transfer is a good one (despite some color timing issues), and the 5.1 lossless audio is more than serviceable for a film of this type. If you just like watching good actors at the top of their game, this one is definitely Recommended.
Three of Hollywood's best character actors team up for Last Flag Flying, Director Richard Linklater's latest effort, which combines a good ol' road movie with more serious contemplations about the American government and how one can oppose it, yet still be proud to have served in its military. The movie was co-written (with Linklater) by Darryl Ponicsan and is sort of a "spiritual sequel" to the 1973 film (and Ponicsan's 1970 novel) The Last Detail. The names of the characters and the branch of the military (this time the Marines instead of the Navy) has changed, as has the time period, but if you look closely enough you can see the resemblance between the trio of men in that movie and in this one.
The story begins with former Marine and Vietnam veteran "Doc" Shepherd (Steve Carell) visiting a bar owned by one of his old friends and fellow serviceman, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston). The two men haven't seen each other in so long, Sal doesn't recognize Doc at first, but once he does, they spend the rest of the evening drinking beer, eating pizza, and reminiscing about their good...and bad...times together. The next morning, Doc asks Sal to take a trip with him, and the two wind up at a Baptist church, where another long-time friend, Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), is preaching. Sal can't believe his eyes, as the Mueller he knew in Vietnam was anything but a saintly man.
The three men go back to Mueller's home for dinner, where Doc tells his two friends the real reason for their unexpected reunion: Doc, whose wife has already passed away a few years back, has gotten word from the military that his only son was killed in action in Iraq. The body is to be buried in Arlington, and he'd like Sal and Mueller to come with him. Sal is immediately ready to journey with his old friend, but Mueller is a little more reluctant – although pressure from both men and Mueller's wife convince him to go along.
When they arrive to pick up the body, however, they learn a different story from a young solider (played by J. Quinton Johnson) who was with Doc's son when he was killed. His death didn't happen in battle, but rather while the soldiers were delivering school supplies and he was shot in the back of the head by some kid. Learning that the military has been dishonest with him, Doc decides his son shouldn't be buried in Arlington, but instead should be buried back home in New Hampshire. The remainder of the movie from this point is the three men using various methods of transportation to get themselves and the body back home.
For a movie that tackles such a serious subject, there's a lot of fun to be had in Last Flag Flying, although calling it a "comedy" would be a disservice to the movie. It's more of a lighthearted drama that will cause viewers to smile often rather than laugh out loud a lot. All three of the leads are solid in their roles, but the real gem of a performance here is Cranston, as he plays a foul-mouthed (perhaps coming close to setting a record for "F-bombs" in a movie), hard-drinking, louse of a man, who is at perfect odds with the now-devout Mueller character. Carell gets the least-flashy of the three roles here, as since his character is still very much in mourning, he has a more quiet, reflective part. But his performance is good as well, although by far the most subtle of the three.
Last Flag Flying is primarily worth seeing for the interaction of the three main characters. The plot seems more of an excuse to get this trio of actors in a lot of scenes together, but they play off each other so well, by the time the movie is over you may not care so much about the resolution as the fact that you got to spend the last two hours with these guys. So while Linklater's latest doesn't rank among his best films, it's enjoyable enough to check out and even consider making part of one's permanent collection.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Last Flag Flying arrives on Blu-ray with a 50GB disc housed inside a standard Elite keepcase along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for The Big Sick, Manchester by the Sea, The Wall, and The Only Living Boy in New York. The main menu features a montage of footage from the movie, with menu selections horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
Last Flag Flying was shot digitally on the Panasonic Varicam 35 and is presented on Blu-ray in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. I've reviewed probably several dozen titles from Lionsgate since I began my Blu-ray reviewing, and they always seem to deliver sharp, detailed transfers. This one is no exception, with one notable glitch: color timing. Having not see this movie in the theaters, I'm not sure if this is an issue with the master or if this problem is new to home video, but in the scenes in the film where our characters visit a nearly all-white airplane hanger, the color hasn't been adjusted to deal with all the glaring whites. As a result, the actors' faces look pale and washed-out (actor Yul Vazquez looks almost ghost-like), and the colors don't quite match those of other sequences. For example, Steve Carell's coat – which he wears for the entirety of the movie, more or less – looks bluish-gray in most scenes, but almost appears reddish in some of the hanger sequences. (Note: You can see what I'm referring to if you compare the first two screenshots of this review).
Other than the above, however, the transfer is really nicely done. There are plenty of details in each shot; black levels are strong, if not quite inky deep; and noise is kept to a minimum. I also didn't detect any aliasing or banding in the image.
The only audio option on this Blu-ray release is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The lossless 5.1 track is certainly more than enough for a movie like this one, since such a big chunk of the film features the main three actors just sitting around talking to one another. That said, the track does have its moments of immersion and surround activity, starting with the very opening scene, which has Steve Carrell walking through the rain. There are later sequences in the movie where the track gets to shine a bit as well, like when the three lead characters take a train trip across country.
Dialogue is exclusively front and center throughout and properly mixed with Composer Graham Reynolds's musical score and the other ambient noises. I didn't detect any glitches with the audio overall.
Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
An Expected Journey: Making Last Flag Flying (HD 15:48) – This is a standard behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie (which was primarily shot in this reviewer's hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), featuring comments from Director/Screenwriter Richard Linklater, Novelist/Screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan, Executive Producer Thomas Lee Wright, Editor Sandra Adair, and actors Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, and J. Quinton Johnson.
Outtakes (HD 9:11) – As you can imagine, having a set with Carell, Fishburne, and Cranston on it was probably a lot of fun. This over nine-minute bloopers and outtakes reel proves it.
Deleted Scenes (HD 5:38) – A collection of three deleted scenes from the movie, which can be watched together or individually. They consist of: "Dress Blues" (1:27), "Limo Ride" (1:52), and "Extended Bar Scene" (2:19).
Veterans Day (HD 5:41) – Members of the cast and crew talk about how the scenes in the movie where the three main characters visit an airplane hanger containing the caskets of American soldiers was actually filmed on Veterans Day.
Even though Last Flag Flying's story is established on a somber premise, this is really a "road" movie featuring three of Hollywood's best actors in fine form. What the film lacks in originality of premise, it more than makes up for by getting to see the three main characters interact with one another. This is one of those movies worth seeing for the performances more than the plot. Recommended.