In Theaters

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when a parent is forced to do so for a departed child who’s taken unexpectedly and in the prime of life. Under circumstances like these, we can use all of the support we can muster, and those who often prove most helpful are those who have already been through life-and-death experiences with us. Such is the case of a distraught father burying his deceased son in the highly moving new drama, “Last Flag Flying” (web site, trailer).

When Vietnam veteran Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) loses his only child in Iraq in 2003, he’s faced with one of the worst tragedies a parent can face. The pain is palpable, and making the right decisions is difficult. Under conditions like this, many of us are at least fortunate enough to turn to our spouses for support, but Larry doesn’t even have that option available, having lost his wife earlier the same year. So, to cope with this tragic situation, he turns to those whom he believes can best relate to what he’s going through – a pair of war buddies with whom he served in Vietnam. There’s just one catch – he hasn’t seen these guys in 30 years.

Nevertheless, thanks to an Internet search, Larry successfully locates his military kindreds, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). Having not been in contact with either of them in decades, Larry is not sure what to expect, but he takes a leap of faith and makes the journey from his home in New Hampshire to Virginia to find his long-lost friends.

Upon arriving in Virginia, Larry finds Sal as a hard-partying bar owner, someone who hasn’t changed much since their days in the service together. Richard, however, has left behind the wild man days of his youth, having become a man of the cloth (but one whose old self is never too far beneath the surface, despite his best efforts to keep that persona in check).

Old friends and Vietnam veterans Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston, left) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne, right) help their war buddy Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell, center) cope with the loss of his son in Iraq in 2003 in director Richard Linklater’s moving new offering, “Last Flag Flying.” Photo by Wilson Webb, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Larry explains his situation and asks Sal and Richard to accompany him to Arlington National Cemetery, where his son is to be buried with full military honors. And so, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and commitment, the trio sets off for the solemn task. But, upon retrieving his son’s body, Larry has second thoughts and decides he wants to lay his boy to rest at home back in New Hampshire. He again asks his friends to join him, after which they embark on an odyssey of emotion, revelation and reconciliation on their way north.

The train trip from Virginia to New Hampshire, with various stops along the way, gives Larry, Sal and Richard an opportunity to become reacquainted, allowing them to relive certain fond memories and to address long-unresolved issues that have simmered for three decades. It also gives each of them a chance to air their views about their respective circumstances, how they have come to be who they are and what they want going forward. It’s a time for healing a lot of wounds, both past and present, all in hopes of creating a future of hope, despite the current circumstances. 

This latest offering from director Richard Linklater is a truly moving cinematic experience that’s not to be missed. With a rollercoaster of emotions and an intriguing road trip narrative somewhat reminiscent of “The Last Detail” (1973), “Last Flag Flying” takes viewers through an array of feelings and moods from tremendous hilarity to profound sadness, and nearly always seamlessly. Most of all, however, the film features three of the strongest male lead performances to come along in quite a while (kudos to the casting director for skillfully choosing Carell, Cranston and Fishburne for their remarkable portrayals and their unbelievable chemistry). Admittedly, the picture gets off track a few times, going on several needless tangents, but overall this strong, solid film is well worth one’s time. Just keep the handkerchief within reach.

With full military honors in place, Vietnam veterans Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne, left) and Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston, center) help war buddy Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell, right) come to terms with the loss of his son in Iraq in 2003 in “Last Flag Flying.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

An emotional catharsis of this order can be difficult to go through, but it’s often necessary to help us get where we want to be. Having good, old friends in our corner – especially those who are familiar with the types of conditions involved here – can prove invaluable for working our way through such experiences. Let us all hope we have companions like them available to us when we need them.

A full review will be available in the near future by clicking here.

On the Radio This Week

Join host Frankie Picasso and me for the latest Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio this Thursday, November 30 at 1 pm ET. We’ll discuss a number of new movie releases and other film-related news. Tune in for some lively movie talk!

Genuinely Caring for One’s Fellow Man

What does it mean to truly care for one’s fellow man? This means more than just paying lip service to the notion or writing a check to a beloved charity; we’re talking about getting actively involved in bettering the well-being of others. Are we equipped to engage in such an activity? And, if so, what exactly does it take? Those are some of the questions raised in the new Swedish satire, “The Square” (web site, trailer).

Christian (Claes Bang) is the respected curator of a Stockholm contemporary art museum. He prides himself on staging exhibits that make people think, not just about the art on display, but also about the messages it’s attempting to convey. He’s especially excited about his newest exhibit, The Square, a show symbolized by the simple geometric figure and explained by the following inscription: “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” It’s a noble sentiment, one that Christian hopes will inspire the exhibit’s visitors to engage in increased acts of altruism and goodwill toward our fellow man.

Given his position, Christian relishes the fruits of his efforts – a comfortable lifestyle with all the trappings of success. In fact, he’s grown so accustomed to such a way of life that sometimes it clouds his vision, even when it comes to the supposed mission behind his work. He strives for a balance between the two, but sometimes things get out of kilter – such as when he’s the victim of a pickpocket incident through which he loses his wallet and cell phone.

Christian (Claes Bang), a successful contemporary art museum curator, goes to great lengths to recover his stolen wallet and cell phone when he’s the victim of a pickpocket incident in the unusual new Swedish satire, “The Square.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The loss of these items so distresses Christian that he quickly loses all perspective. He becomes so preoccupied with retrieving the lost items that he begins shirking his responsibilities in other areas of his life, such as overseeing his obligations for the staging of The Square. The divorced father even forgets about the regularly scheduled weekend visitation of his two daughters (Lilianne Mardon, Lise Stephenson Engstrom), who show up on his doorstep surprised that he didn’t remember they were coming. And, as matters play out, circumstances go from bad to worse as Christian loses his grip on his priorities in the wake of his material obsessions.

Christian’s conundrum over what he actually does versus what he espouses that he (and we) should do soon escalates. He’s quickly faced with having to put out more fires than he can possibly handle, with consequences that grow ever more complicated. In his professional life, for example, he must explain his lack of awareness of the release of an ill-advised promotional video for The Square, one that simultaneously raises questions of social propriety and freedom of speech. Personally, meanwhile, he struggles to cope with the histrionics of a would-be romantic interest (Elisabeth Moss) who’s obsessed with turning their casual involvement into a cause, one that some would say reflects an institutionalized form of social-sexual exploitation while others would say it’s simply a misunderstanding blown out of proportion.

How will things work out for the beleaguered protagonist? Will circumstances get straightened out, or will they continue to spiral out of control? Will Christian regain his perspective, or will he become irretrievably overwhelmed? Will he grasp the lessons of his own exhibition, or will he remain what some might readily call a social hypocrite? Those are a lot of questions to be answered.

Christian (Claes Bang, right), a successful contemporary art museum curator, wrestles with the unpredictable rants of Anne (Elisabeth Moss, left), a would-be romantic interest, in director Ruben Östlund’s latest offering, “The Square.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

As with director Ruben Östlund’s other films (such as “Force Majeure” (2014)), “The Square” is a picture with a lot to say. Its attempts at covering so much ground are indeed laudable, especially in the highly innovative ways it addresses its material. Yet, despite such an ambitious approach, the film doesn’t always convey its ideas as well as it could. In its moments of inspired clarity, the director absolutely knocks it out of the park with inventive, riveting humor – big, hilarious satirical episodes that pointedly impart significant social insights. However, this strength notwithstanding, sometimes it takes the filmmaker a little too long to get the audience from laugh to laugh, a problem that could have been resolved with some very judicious editing. Nevertheless, if you’re able to sift through the flotsam to find the picture’s kernels of wisdom, you’ll be richly rewarded with an unusual and memorable movie experience.

All too often, others say to us “Do as I say, not as I do,” when a simple, genuine “do as I do” would suffice. “The Square” makes an impassioned plea for us to do just that. If we and our contentions are to be taken seriously, we’d be wise to do just that.

A full review will be available in the near future by clicking here.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.