Last Flag Flying

Some people wonder all their lives if they’ve made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem. – Ronald Reagan

When one organisation influences multiple generations of your family, everything said about that institution becomes exceptionally personal. My grandfather and father were both Marines, while I was born on the hallowed ground of the infamous Camp Pendleton in Southern California. Regardless of people’s opinions of the military and war, the Marine Corps of the United States of America gets and deserves a level of respect that is above and beyond any other fighting force in the world. Director Richard Linklater (Boyhood) has taken Darryl Ponicsan’s novel of three Marines and shows the beauty and darker underbelly of the Corp and those individuals who live to tell about their experiences of service. 

Set in the early part of 2003 during the initial stages of the war in Iraq, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) arrives at the bar owned by Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) to ask him for a ride. The two Vietnam veterans drive to find their former Marine Corp counterpart who is now the Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). After a quick catch-up over dinner, Doc asks his two military colleagues to join him on a trip to bury his only son at Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC. Larry Jr. was a Marine who had died serving his country in Baghdad and his father needs support during this time of grief and loss. Sal agrees to go, but Mueller needs some convincing to join the pair on this melancholic journey. Eventually, they all travel to identify the body of the younger Shepard, but run into some complications that test the limits of their former friendship and the remaining loyalty they have to the nation. 

Despite moving at a moderate pace, Richard Linklater’s film manages to deliver some of the most personal and moving performances from his three lead actors. They manage to convey the harsh realities of war and the ripple effect that reverberates through all involved in the lives of those who serve. Despite an underlying antiwar theme, the film still manages to show how the military did make them into the men they are today. These roles encapsulate the finer parts of the source material and help to explain the necessity of the armed forces without shielding the audience from the brutal truth behind that lifestyle. 
The screenplay manages to deliver laughs and tears from multiple reflections on the past and showing how a father can weep and well up with pride at the same moment. The inclusion of J. Quinton Johnson as the young Charlie Washington made for a wonderful bridge into the future of the country and military, balancing out the cynicism of the senior veterans with a whisper of hope. Then to add to the drama with the scenes with Cicely Tyson and the conclusion make for some of the best cinema on screen in 2018. 

All of the men and women who have served in the Marines or any branch of the armed forces throughout the past four decades should make it a point to see this film. They should invite along anyone who has been on the journey with them through this experience to share in the highs and lows that must be experienced by all involved in this aspect of service. Last Flag Flying delivers a significant impact on this reviewer, whose only regret was not getting to share this film with my father, a Marine. Semper Fi and thank you for your service to our family and country, I am proud of you Dad. 

REEL DIALOGUE: Are you a patriot? 

Where are the roots of patriotism?  Last Flag Flying will cause the least patriotic person to consider their love for the country in which they live. It will manage to rub every nerve raw, but interestingly will still manage to cause one to well up with pride for the armed forces. 

Yet, is patriotism a biblical concept? Yes and no. A Christian should understand that their citizenship is not found in an earthly kingdom, but in the Kingdom of God. Not to diminish or undermine a person’s pride in their country, but to realise what is the first priority of a follower of God. Loyalty to God and then to the earthly country they live in during this life. 

Passages on loyalty to a country: Psalm 33:12-22, Hebrews 11:13-20, Philippians 3:20

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.