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Last Flag Flying Review

3 Nov

A Richard Linklater road trip comedy sounds like the greatest idea ever. It’s a perfect setup for his naturalistic, free wheeling dialogue and his vigorous commitment to character, for his nearly unmatched skill at drawing humanity and beauty out of apparent mundanity. He certainly accomplishes that at select moments throughout this film, but more often than not, the conversations feel artificial, strained in a way. The characters almost feel different for the sake of being different rather than different enough to draw out hidden complexities. Cranston’s hammy character is well acted–no surprise there, he’s one of the best actors alive–but it sometimes feels forced comedy-wise. Maybe that’s more the screenplay’s fault, and hey, maybe it’s wrong for me to ascribe your typical Linklater quality markers to this markedly different film. But I still get the sense that he’s trying to have it both ways. He’s trying to bring what he knows and loves to a more formalistic structure, and while I have no doubts that he has the talent to do so, it’s unfortunately not his greatest effort here.

The film is funny at times. It’s driven beautifully by pain and friendship and memories at others. But overall, it’s not strong enough in either direction nor well balanced enough in conjunction to truly deliver something incredible. Again, though, there are moments, and what is a Linklater film if not a collection of flawed, messy, funny moments tinged with heartache and joy? Take a scene on a train, for instance, which allows for Steve Carell to do his high pitched Brick Tamland laugh and for Laurence Fishburne to tell stories and for Bryan Cranston to roll around on the floor. The memories we share, the bonds we form, the things we do so passionately and valiantly and lovingly in the name of others. Now there’s a moment.

GRADE: B-

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