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Middleburg Finale Pt 1: "Last Flag Flying"

Day 1 (Darkest Hour) and Day 2 (James Ivory, Mudbound, A Fantastic Woman) in case you missed them.

Saturday at Middleburg started really slow but then the tempo and key changed. And then it got chopped and screwed and tessellated... and became truly special. If you don't know what any of that means, it's okay; neither did I. I shall explain when we come to the topic of Oscar nominated film composer Nicholas Britell of Moonlight fame.

But first Last Flag Flying...

Richard Linklater is America's most distinguished auteur in the subgenre of movies in which a tight knit group of men just kind of hang out for two hours. He's back quickly after his delightful college baseball comedy Everybody Wants Some!! but this time he's trained his lens on three men his own age... 

Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburn star as Vietnam vets who are reunited when Carell's character "Doc"  has to bury his son who died overseas in service to his country. Lost and lonely he turns to two strangers who were once friends for companionship on the difficult journey.

(Last Flag Flying, based on the book by Darryl Ponicsan, is a sequel of sorts to The Last Detail which starred Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid, and Otis Young. You don't need to have seen that film to follow along with this one feat Cranston, Carell, and Fishburn. The names of the characters have even been changed.)

Despite a heavy topic, immense predictability, and troublingly repetitive pacing (the movie would be so much stronger if it lost 15 minutes in the back half), Linklater's flair for capturing the organic humor that bubbles up in long conversations serves him well. The movie is quite funny in spots and the actors do connect. Carell and Fishburne are particularly good within the admittedly tight confines of their character sketches (depressed grieving father and reformed bad boy preacher, respectively).

But the film's heart and soul, for better and worse, and mostly for worse given that the central arc is Carrel's, belongs to Bryan Cranston as their reckless, tactless, alcholic good time guy friend. He brings out the most irresponsible side of his friends, then (in Vietnam) and now as they prepare for this very sober funeral. The result is that this dramedy is more than a shade too glib, with its relentless jokiness. The humor doesn't play so much as a character detail about being reluctant to face grief head-on but a film that has the same resistance to sober reflection. It's not that it doesn't get angry about the state of the world and the jingoistic patriotism that leads young men to die. It's that its anger is as easily dispatched as a tweet or gun ammunition so it can move on with its more pressing concerns: making its audience laugh before the tears flow. C+

Last Flag Flying opens on November 3rd

Oscar Chances? Good.  My guess is that it will have hardcore fans, especially among straight men. Think of it as this year's Big Short (though it won't go that far in the Oscar race). But real talk: it's a weak effort in Linklater's filmography, certainly less compelling than his much lighter Everybody Wants Some!! just last year. But before we depart this topic let's just say to ignore the crazy internet talk about a Cicely Tyson supporting actress bid. She has approximately one minute of screen time with about 3 lines. What's more her only scene isn't even about her. Like almost every other scene, it's entirely about the three leads; Cranston, Carell, and Fishburne who are onscreen together for almost the entire movie. There are only two real supporting characters (i.e. people with more than just cameos): J Quinton Johnson (from Everybody Wants Some!!) plays a young soldier who served with Doc's son and Yul Vasquez plays his superior officer at the military base.

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Reader Comments (14)

I'm not sure you like Cranston very much.

October 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Well, Ruby Dee got that nomination

October 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I mean, there's always Hermione Baddeley...

October 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Cicely is on the cover of Elle this month, so they're promoting her.

October 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I so hope this works out for Carell, I'm a huge fan, and he deserves another Oscar nomination.This role looks tailor-made for him.

October 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

markgordon -- not much, no.

cal -- but she actually had a big scene/big moment!

October 27, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Too hammy and not subtle gives you the basics of a character and not much more I always find him.

October 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Wait? Did you already review Mudbound? Did I miss it? I loved the book.

October 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Nathaniel, I am still in disbelief about that Trumbo momination. I haven't seen that much ham since my last Easter dinner!

October 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

Pam -- we've had three takes on Mudbound (me, murtada, and lynn) here

October 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Michael R--cosign. That was not good. Plus he pushed out Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Michael B. Jordan or Oscar Isaac.

October 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Brooksboy: so true. Those were probably Coutenay's and Caine's last chances to score an Oscar nomination.

October 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

I don't even remember what Michael Caine was in that had Oscar potential that year.

This film feels so... IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH. Maybe it'll make $10 and snag an acting nomination for a beloved actor. But sheesh. Who needs this movie?

October 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Glenn--it was his role in Youth. I think that quiet, lovely performance is so underrated and one of his best.

October 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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