Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Last Flag Flying

“Boo 2! A Madea Halloween” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

There are some bonds that can never be broken. No matter how much time passes, no matter how much distance separates certain people, their bond remains solid. So much so that when they do reunite, they can pick right back up where they left off.

The opening scenes of “Last Flag Flying” show the reuniting of three friends who served together in Vietnam: Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), a retired Marine Sergeant who owns a dive bar in Norfolk, VA; Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), who found God after receiving an injury that caused him to now have to walk with a cane; and Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), a retired Navy Corpsman who served time in a brig in New Hampshire for mistakes the three men made 30 years earlier that caused the agonizing death of a fellow Marine. After three decades, it’s understandable that the men don’t recognize each other right away. But once they do, the energy immediately goes up and they can’t wait to play catch up.

It’s not a totally happy reunion though. The year is 2003 and the United States military is fully engaged in conflict in Iraq. Shepherd’s 21 year old son joined the Marine Corps to fight terrorism and serve his country. He was killed in action. This prompts Shepherd to go from his home in New Hampshire down to Virginia to seek out his old friends. If anyone can understand the pain from the loss he’s suffering, it’s them. He wants them there with him at the funeral.

The three men have very distinct personalities. Shepherd is kind and soft spoken. Nealon is loud, brash, and aggressive. There is an angst boiling under the surface in Cranston’s performance. He drinks heavily as a way of masking it. It almost completely boils over in the presence of Colonel Willits (Yul Vazquez), a Marine Corps casualty officer. Willits is a great pitch man for the Corps, trying to convince Shepherd to let them take care of the funeral arrangements and burial with full honors at Arlington. Shepherd doesn’t want to do this, and Nealon very helpfully reminds him, “You don’t have to listen to colonels anymore.” It’s made very clear that even when Nealon was active in the Marines, he didn’t care much for colonels. He still doesn’t.

Mueller is the most interesting personality. Through dialogue, we learn that his nickname was “Mueller the Mauler.” This had less to do with his skills on the battlefield and more to do with his prowess with the ladies. He also drank, did drugs, and smoked quite a bit. That all changed once he was discharged, became a reverend, and married his wife, Ruth (Deanna Reed-Foster). When we first see Mueller, he is preaching to his church. During lunch at his house with Shepherd and Nealon after the sermon, cracks in his clean, good-natured, pious persona begin to emerge. By the time they’re all in a car together and Nealon’s road rage almost gets them killed in an accident with an obnoxious tractor-trailer driver, the “Mauler” is back, getting angry and cussing up a storm.

The brilliance of the screenplay by co-writers Richard Linklater (who also directed) and Darryl Ponicsan (who wrote the novel this movie is based on) is in its ability to draw parallels between then and now. Shepherd, Nealon, and Mueller all fought in a war with dubious reasons for starting that made people wonder why they were really fighting. This sounds more and more familiar as the modern day war in Iraq is explored, and we meet characters like Lance Corporal Washington (J. Quinton Johnson), who served with Shepherd’s son and has some details about his son’s death that the Marines would like to cover up. This notion really hits home in a conversation the three men have with the mother of the Marine who died a painful death due to their negligence, played by Cicely Tyson. The lie she was told about her son’s death mirrors the lie that Shepherd is told about his son.

In spite of the deceit and the clear parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, “Last Flag Flying” never condescends or berates those who choose to serve. If anything, they are treated with respect and dignity. I don’t think any rational person could blame Shepherd when he flat out says, “I don’t trust the government right now.” He’s right not to, especially after what he’s experienced. One point the movie drives home pretty clearly is that a nation’s government is not the same thing as a nation’s people. Not by a long shot. It’s an important message worth hearing, stated in a movie that is definitely worth seeing. Buy it on Amazon: Last Flag Flying [Blu-ray].

More New Releases: “Boo 2! A Madea Halloween,” writer-director-actor Tyler Perry once again dresses in drag, this time to go to a campground and get chased by monsters, goblins, and the boogeyman; “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” about the unconventional life of Dr. William Marston, the Harvard psychologist and inventor who helped invent the modern lie detector test and created Wonder Woman in 1941, starring Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, and Connie Britton; and “Loving Vincent,” about the life and mysterious death of Vincent Van Gogh, starring Helen McCrory, Saoirse Ronan, and Aidan Turner.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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