Ghost of bat­tles past laid to rest in emo­tional road trip

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

THREE Viet­nam veter­ans, re­united after 30 years by the death of one of their sons travel across the county to bury him.

Old wounds re­open en route, but a few ghosts are also laid to rest.

The broad out­line of this well-trav­elled movie road trip is sure to sound fa­mil­iar, but what dif­fers here is the telling.

Richard Lin­klater is an ex­cep­tion­ally re­laxed spin­ner of yarns.

And the cast he has as­sem­bled for his film adap­ta­tion of Dar­ryl Pon­ic­san’s 2005 novel rel­ishes the throt­tled-back pace.

The ex­pe­ri­ence is just as sat­is­fy­ing for movie­go­ers, who can feel just how much fuel these ac­tors have in re­serve.

Hot on the heels of his scene-steal­ing vo­cal per­for­mance in Isle Of Dogs, Bryan Cranston chews over the role of Sal Nealon as if it were an ex­pen­sive cigar.

Gruff, com­bat­ive, ex­as­per­at­ing, but with a de­cep­tively large heart, Sal owns a down-at-heel bar, pri­mar­ily to pour his own beers. After Viet­nam, Lau­rence Fish­burne’s one-time, hard-ass Richard Mueller found God and a good woman and redi­rected his fiery tem­per­a­ment into the role of preacher.

Even be­fore they hit the road, it’s clear that these two for­mer marines are likely to bait each other un­til at least one of them draws blood.

Carell has per­haps the most dif­fi­cult role as the qui­etly spo­ken, al­most meek Larry “Doc” Shep­herd.

The for­mer naval hospi­tal corps­man con­tacts his bat­tle­field com­pan­ions when his only son is killed in Iraq.

Ini­tially, a hero’s burial is planned for the young ma­rine at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery.

But when Doc learns the truth be­hind his son’s death, he de­cides to bring him back home to sub­ur­ban New Hamp­shire in­stead.

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing the three age­ing veter­ans on the train trip is Washington (J. Quin­ton John­son), the ma­rine who es­corted the cof­fin back from Iraq, and who in­tends to see his mate prop­erly buried.

Lit­tle by lit­tle, salient de­tails of the long-ago past emerge, along­side the more re­cent bat­tle­field ex­pe­ri­ences in a sim­i­larly un­pop­u­lar war.

But there are no earth­shat­ter­ing epipha­nies here, or great emo­tional rev­e­la­tions, just painful mem­o­ries, hard­earned ac­cep­tance, and hon­est, ev­ery­day acts of ten­der­ness soft­ened by the oc­ca­sional belly laugh.

The Last Flag Fly­ing qui­etly re­minds us that it’s the jour­ney, rather than the des­ti­na­tion, that’s im­por­tant.

Hav­ing said that, the film packs a sur­pris­ingly pow­er­ful emo­tional punch.

Sal (Bryan Cranston), Larry (Steve Carell) and Mueller (Lau­rence Fish­burne).

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