Looking Back at 2010s Films: Last Flag Flying (2017)

4 Oct


By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, “Last Flag Flying” was a most pleasant surprise to me for three reasons. 1) It was based on the sequel to the novel that was adapted into the 1973 film “The Last Detail,” my favorite Jack Nicholson movie. 2) It was directed by Richard Linklater, one of my absolute favorite film directors still working today. And 3) I didn’t even know about it until it was about to be released!

Apparently, the characters in the novel are the same ones from “The Last Detail.” And in the film, the characters are given very similar traits–but for whatever reason…they have different names here, as if to separate them from “The Last Detail.” But I can’t un-see it. “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) is Meadows. Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) is “Mule.” And Sal (Bryan Cranston) is “Bad Ass.” Why not just call them that? We understand actor replacements in movies (for the most part).

OK, to be fair, the main change that’s added between movies is these three apparently served in the Vietnam War and the reason Doc went to prison is different from Meadows’ petty crime. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if this was added for the movie to add more of a contrast or not. But I’ll take it, I guess.

Anyway, “Last Flag Flying” is set in 2003. The Iraq War is going on, and Doc’s son has been killed in combat. He reaches out to his Vietnam War buddies, Sal and Mueller, and they agree to help him bury his son at home. So, they go on a cross-country road trip together, talk about the past, and contemplate the idea of war, going from one (the Vietnam War) to another (the Iraq War).

As is typical of a Linklater film, the characters have a lot of interesting things to say–philosophies, contemplations, predictions, and so on. It’s just these three guys talking about what they went through, what’s happened since, and that other people are going through something similar to them.

But it’s not an anti-war movie. Some people would make that distinction, seeing as how at the center of this road trip is the body of an Iraq War soldier who was the son of a Vietnam vet, thus representing the consequences from the perspective of other VW vets. Yes, there are cynical and bitter comments about the military and the overall purpose of war that heavily indicate that while opponents and locations have changed, the reasoning never changes. But at the same time, when the three main characters (plus a young soldier who is commanded by his superior to come along for the ride) get down to it, they still remain loyal patriots who were proud to help serve their country. I think it’s more of an area in which they’ll do what they feel is their duty even if they’re entirely sure why it’s their duty to begin with. It’s ambiguous and it’s smart because of that.

It’s also smart that Linklater, who wanted to adapt the novel in the mid-2000s, chose to wait until the time was right.

But there’s also room for funny moments such as when the three guys are bonding together…and buying cellphones. That’s right–mobile phones! Remember how shocking and innovative they were back in 2003? How times have changed, indeed.

One Response to “Looking Back at 2010s Films: Last Flag Flying (2017)”


  1. Prepping for My Top 20 Films of the 2010s | Smith's Verdict - November 27, 2019

    […] “Flight,” “Dunkirk,” “Searching,” “Moonlight,” “Last Flag Flying,” “Gifted,” “Call Me By Your […]

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