“Last Flag Flying” a sterling portrait of duty

Directed by Richard Linklater and written by him and Darryl Ponicsan, “Last Flag Flying” tells the story of three Vietnam veterans, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), a drunk bar owner, Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), a reformed pastor, and Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), whose son has just died in the Iraq war. As Doc reunites with his old army buddies, he asks for their help to bury his son.

The film follows a typical Linklater style where many plot points are understated and long moments are spent talking and thinking deeply about life. And like many Linklater films, there are moments where it is very sweet and moments where it is grating. But overall, the film is touching with just the right amount of schmaltz without tipping into sentimentalism.

The three principal actors are fantastic, each imbuing their character with conflict and depth. It’s a tribute to the writing that gives each actor a strong basis to connect with their performance. They’re stereotypes to a point, but unique enough to be memorable.

And there is a deep, festering anger burning at the heart of the film, an anger about the sacrifices the United States asks every generation to make, wars seemingly springing up again and again. When will it end? After how much we’ve already given up, how can our country ask for more? It’s an interesting perspective counter to the constant chest-beating patriotism so often seem in films.

At the end, there is only respect, for our country, despite its flaws, for the military and for our friends. For a nation so often weighed down by moral qualms, it’s a satisfying film.

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