Semper Fi...Do or Die is a phrase I have heard my entire life, as were the lyrics to the Halls of Montezuma My father is what they call in "the corp" a lifer. He spent more than a quarter of his life in the United States Marine Corps and when he left my Mom to serve his country in Vietnam, needless to say, it was a difficult moment for our family.
However, my family was lucky to have never had that moment where we were "notified" but the US Government that someone we loved was killed in the line of duty. With our current leader being in the news for how this administration recently handled a fallen soldier, Last Flag Flying couldn't be more timely.
In 2003, 30 years after serving together in the Vietnam War, Larry "Doc" Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with former Marines Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to bury Doc's son, a fallen Marine killed in the Iraq war. With the help of his buddies, doc takes the casket holding his son on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in New Hampshire. Along the way, all three men come to terms with a painful shared memory of the war.
Emotional rollercoaster rides is a skill Richard Linklater excels at and Last Flag Flying is no exception. I spent more time laughing than crying while realizing grief can sometimes be the most extreme of roller coaster rides. It hits you in unexpected waves. Having been someone who lost three Uncles in the last year who have served, one of which was the recipient of two Purple Hearts, I can tell you that this film brought all of those raw emotions to the surface for me.
Bryan Cranston as Sal is crass, raw and covers up his emotional baggage with jokes. He's loud, brash, crazy and the type of character you love to hate, but at the same time can totally relate with. Anybody that can go from Malcolm in the Middle to Breaking Bad to Trumbo to LBJ is the type of actor who can bring Sal to life in a way no one else could embody. That's Cranston for ya!!!!
Steve Carell (Doc) is giving one of the most powerfully understated performances of his career and will break your heart in a million pieces. All parents who have ever lost a child will wholeheartedly be able to connect with this performance. I sincerely hope that Carell gets some nomination love this season. Between this and his over-the-top performance as Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes, his has done more than prove that his range is ridiculous vast.
Laurence Fishburne (Mueller) gives a realness to his pastor role like no other. He gives you major glimpses into what type of man and Marine Mueller was before finding the church and his wife. Mueller is in no hurry to relive his days in the corp and it is because of the grounded and comedic levels given by Fishburne that we understand why.
Academy Award Nominee Cicely Tyson will warm and break your heart all at once. As a mother who has lost her son in the war, you can't help but grieve with her as she recalls and brags on her son, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The fact that she has no relationship with them other than a few photos and calls makes you wonder what their relationship would've been like had her son survived. The quiet fire strength that Ms. Tyson exudes is palpable and powerful. But, would we expect anything less from the woman who gave us such iconic characters as Miss Jane Pittman, A Woman Called Moses and Annalise Keating's Mom on ABC's monster hit How To Get Away With Murder? I think not.
I recently spoke with Miss Tyson about her role, working with Linklater and being reunited on-screen with Laurence Fishburne. It was epic...take a listen...
Last, but not least, straight from the Broadway musical Hamilton, J. Quinton Johnson portrays Larry's best friend Washington with a respectable fervor completely associated with a young man in the corp. The scene where they speak fondly of the first time a Marine puts on his dress blues is a conversation I have heard many times in my family and depicted perfectly.
However, it is the performance of Yul Vazquez as Colonel Wilits that is the scene stealer of this film. He hits the nail on the head as one of those Marines, who put the corps above all else...even a grieving family's final wish for their loved. He as devilishly nasty and I love every single moment.
Last Flag Flying is released into select cities on November 3rd and can be seen everywhere on November 17th.