‘Last Flag Flying’ is not your typical war movie.
There’s no guns, no violence, no bloodshed, but the ramifications of both the Vietnam War and the Iraq War on its characters still reverberates throughout, as Steve Carell’s Doc enlists the help of his old Marine buddies Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to help him bury his son, who has recently been killed in combat.
“It was unlike anything I had every read really,” Fishburne explained to me last month during our discussion about “Last Flag Flying.” “I describe it as a grief piece. Inside of all of that there’s this weird little road and buddy movie. It’s not a war film. It is a film about grief. We see movies about the heroism of war, or the madness of war, or the history of the war, or how the conflict evolved. But we don’t get to tell stories about people that were left behind.”
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While Darryl Ponicsan’s novel “Last Flag Flying” is the follow-up to his book “The Last Detail,” Fishburne insists that Richard Linklater’s film isn’t the sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 adaptation. Instead, Linklater has put his own spin on it, bringing the story and characters to life in a way that only the “Boyhood,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “Everybody Wants Some!!” director can. And as you’d expect Fishburne only had positive things to say about working with the Oscar nominee.
“What a gift he is. He is just so thoughtful. And so curious about the human condition. And really thoughtful about getting to the truth of these things, and getting to the heart of it. It’s not showy, it’s not, ‘Oh look at what we’re doing.’ It’s inviting you in in a very quiet way, and allowing you to listen to this very intimate relationship. He definitely has a philosophical quality to him. And he’s an ex-athlete, so he has this real physicality, and he understands that we communicate a lot non-verbally.”
Fishburne’s “Last Flag Flying” co-star J Quinton Johnson, who previously worked with Linklater on “Everybody Wants Some!!!”, was just as unequivocal with his praise for the director.
“You know that you’re getting to work with someone special. He really understands it from all sides. He is a writer, director, and an actor. He understands what actors need, and understands how the writing melds with the directing, which melds with the performances from the actors. He understands how to control the ship perfectly … Weaving [different perspectives] in and out of one another is something that Rick is oh so good at. The script is so layered, mixing comedy with the heavy circumstances.”
But while “Last Flag Flying” has a lot to say about war, its impact on soldiers, and how they can be used as pawns in the political machine, both Fishburne and Johnson think that its examination of these topics goes beyond the politics of today
“It has a timeless kind of thing. Certainly one can relate the politics of today to it. Any good piece of art you should be able to do that to. But that’s not what our intention is. Our intention really is about illuminating the kind of humanity in all of these people,” Fishburne explained.
“I don’t think today’s politics, that’s not our movie,” Johnson added. “Inevitably your art is subject to the sea in which you throw it. Subject to the waves, and to the murkiness of those waters. Ultimately when you are out here creating art and when you do give it out for popular consumption what is going to affect it is what is going to affect it. And what people take out of it is what people that out of it.”
“Last Flag Flying” is now in select cinemas in New York City.