Richard Linklater’s “Last Flag Flying” earns tears at NYFF

This morning, audiences at the 2017 New York Film Festival were the first to see Richard Linklater’s latest outing, the road trip dramedy Last Flag Flying. It’s the Opening Night Selection of the fest, officially kicking it off. Luckily for all of us in attendance, it’s also a terrific work, signaling not just another Academy Award contender, but another great film for the year. Plus, it honors the legacy of the flick that came before it (more on that in a moment). Amazon Studios continues to pick excellent bits of cinema to promote. This could very well end up just as successful as Manchester by the Sea was for them last year.

The film is a sequel to The Last Detail, though familiarity with that picture is hardly required. Out of contact with each other for three decades, a trio of the Vietnam War veterans are brought back together. Former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with his two old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and now Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). The purpose is not nostalgia though, but to bury Larry’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War during the start of that new unpopular war. Each man has something to deal with, either in the present or the past, but find that time spent together now is much different than when they were young and dumb during Vietnam. Linklater co-writes with author of the novel Darryl Ponicsan and directs here. Also making up the cast are J. Quinton Johnson, Cicely Tyson, Yul Vazquez, Graham Wolfe, and more. Shane F. Kelly handles the cinematography, while Graham Reynolds composed the score.

I cried on multiple occasions during this movie. Last Flag Flying represents one of Linklater’s most mature works to date, and one of his best too. Carell and Cranston have never been better, while Fishburne is terrific too. Tyson kills it in her one scene, while Linklater proves very adept at middle aged male bonding dynamics. It’s often a heartbreaking picture, though a very funny one as well. Carell will undoubtedly make you cry, while Cranston will make you howl with laughter. In fact, he’s very much channeling Jack Nicholson here. It’s impressive work on all fronts. NYFF has another strong Opening Night Selection on their hands with this one.

Oscar could easily take notice of Last Flag Flying. Look for Amazon Studios to have an accord the board candidacy, though focused in on Best Picture, Best Director (for Linklater), Best Actor (for Carell, unless he goes Supporting), Best Supporting Actor (for Carell, Cranston, and/or Fishburne, depending on placement), Best Supporting Actress (for Tyson), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Linklater and Ponicsan), Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. The main trio are really co-leads, so it’ll be interesting to see how a campaign shakes out. Category placement could make or break them. Still, this one seems like it’ll be a player. The quality is certainly there.

Last Flag Flying is going to have some real fans in the Academy, though we won’t fully know how it’ll do for a few months now. At the moment, there’s no reason not to assume that it won’t at least contend for a couple of nominations. November brings it into theaters, and that will be the first test. Linklater has another home run to his credit, regardless of all that. If you love his films, any of the cast members, or the road trip genre, this is one to really anticipate. It’s among the best things I’ve seen all year. This won’t be the last I speak of it, so sit tight for more in the coming weeks and months. It’s worth raving about…

Stay tuned for much more on Last Flag Flying between now and its November release date!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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