Richard Linklater’s “Last Flag Flying” is a quasi-sequel to the 1973 film “The Last Detail”, being based on the sequel of the book that film was based on, and trading in many of the same themes. Some character names are unchanged, others aren’t, but Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, and Steve Carell easily slide into the archetypes previously filled by Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, and Randy Quaid (even if Fishburne and Young’s character is the only one to share the same name across the films).
Just as Nicholson was the highlight of “The Last Detail”, Cranston is the highlight here, but all three leads give brilliant performances, and bring the best out of each other. Linklater is restrained enough here to prevent the film dipping into overt sentimentalism (let alone patriotism), and he creates something quieter and more honest as it morphs into a road-trip buddy movie finding laughter amongst tragedy in the same way “The Last Detail” did.
It’s striking how well this film updates what worked so well in “The Last Detail” decades ago. It’s a sombre, honest, validating affair that doesn’t take any easy routes. The chemistry between the leads is the film’s greatest strength, and Linklater wisely continually plays to it. I give it three and a half Cokes, and a rented truck.