Last Flag Flying Was Made For Richard Linklater

By  · Published on September 1st, 2016

A great cast promises an adaptation almost too typical for the director.

he talent assembled for Last Flag Flying is enough to evoke excitement. As The Hollywood Reporter revealed yesterday, Richard Linklater is directing Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne in an Amazon Studios production that adapts Darryl Poncisan’s 2005 novel. The book of choice is a follow-up to Ponicsan’s seminal hit, “The Last Detail,” which was made into the 1973 Hal Ashby film of the same name.

Randy Quaid and Jack Nicholson garnered Oscar nominations for their performances as Laurence “Larry” Meadows, a young seaman sentenced to eight years at Portsmouth Naval Prison in Maine, and William “Badass” Buddusky, the signalman assigned to escort Meadows from their base in Norfolk, Virginia. Otis Young played Buddusky’s fellow petty officer and partner for the excursion, Richard “Mule” Mulhall. Last Flag picks up their story 34 years later, when Meadows enlists Mulhall and Buddusky to help bring his son’s body from Arlington National Cemetery to his family plot in Portsmouth. Over the course of the journey, the trio ruminates on the failings of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the perils of prostate exams, and everything between.

The sequel’s casting is thrilling to say the least. All three actors have the chops to deliver Linklater’s comedy-driven dialogue. Carell and Cranston found their breakout roles on comedies, The Office and Malcolm in the Middle, respectively. It’s unclear who will play Meadows and who will play Buddusky, though IndieWire guesses Carell will take the role previously filled by Quaid. Fishburne has also demonstrated his comedic capacity in his recurring role on Black-ish. The three have the experience to capture profoundly resonant moments, as well. They have all been nominated for Academy Awards, while both Fishburne and Cranston have won Emmys for their performances on TriBeCa and Breaking Bad, respectively.

But enough of me raving about the casting decisions. I have to ask you the question at the center of this piece: are the similarities between this property and Linklater’s prior works obvious yet? Considering he’s been developing the property since 2006, it’s almost as if Linklater engineered the perfect project to slightly expand his comfort zone. Let’s take a look at some of those similarities:

1. Time Skips

Both the Before series and Boyhood incorporate major time jumps, the former setting each film nine years after the last and the latter progressing through 12 years in the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane). Linklater loves presenting character development by omission, leaving the audiences to piece together details of the characters’ lives between each period shown.

Take the case of Jim (Brad Hawkins), the boyfriend Olivia (Patricia Arquette) moves in with during Mason’s teen years. Early in the film, the inciting incident behind Olivia’s second divorce plays out on screen as she whisks her kids away from their alcoholic stepfather. Jim and his house simply disappear. His abrupt exit is a testament to his relative insignificance in Mason’s life and to the nature of memory. With Last Flag Flying, Linklater will again have the advantage of depicting characters many years after their original appearance.

2. Moment-to-Moment Structure

The new film will also follow the same dialectic, moment-driven structure as his previous works. Look no further than the sidewalk talks of Slacker or the dreamy debates of Waking Life for examples of Linklater’s strength in weaving abstract concepts into realistic conversations. These discussions are only possible because of the films’ structures. In the case of Slacker, it meanders throughout the lives of an ensemble cast, allowing for a variety of set-ups and topics. In Waking Life, the progression of ethereal planes creates the perfect conditions for philosophical musings of its protagonist. Like these films, albeit with a far more linear plot, Last Flag Flying has a road trip structure to fall back on. Linklater can ground these moments of introspection in the locals and locales the men experience on their journey. Plus, the time jump creates ample justification for expository musings between the three men.

3. Specific Moment in History

Some of Linklater’s most profound successes are in his attempts to capture the cultural atmosphere of points in US history. The obvious examples are Dazed and Confused and its spiritual successor, Everybody Wants Some!!, both of which infuse the cultural influences of their decades with specific periods of their protagonists’ personal developments. In the former, the bell bottoms and cool tunes of the 1970s coincide with high school. In the latter, the emergence of punk and the decline of disco coincide with college. His attention to the finer details of each era is more than fads and music trends, but the specific points speak to Linklater’s ability to envelop the audience in an historical atmosphere.

Both in a grand sense and a personal one, the new film will focus on a cultural moment, as well. The response to 9/11 and coinciding invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan was a crucial time in recent American history. The now 70-year-old protagonists react to the increasingly large disconnect between themselves and the zeitgeist, which necessitates an effective depiction of the time period. Though it lacks some of the iconography of earlier decades, the political and economic climates, as well as other cultural trends, are key to understanding the story as told in this novel.

But on a more personal level, the trio’s ascent into seniority reflects a change in life Linklater is experiencing right now. Though he is younger than the characters, he is still an at age where the progression from middle age to older adulthood is apparent at every turn. Like the teenage years that inspired his period pieces and the journey of parenthood that inspired Boyhood, Last Flag Flying invites Linklater to contemplate another, new stage in his life.

I don’t note these similarities to take away from Linklater’s choice to direct and write the film. In fact, from another perspective, they are reasons why he is the perfect choice for this project. When you’re as acclaimed a filmmaker as Richard Linklater, you have the freedom to work on films that appeal to your sensibilities. I just hope that he takes the opportunity to push himself even further when he decides upon his future projects. I want to see him attempt the wonders of a fantasy realm or reach the heights of a science fiction universe or maybe even make a kung fu movie (okay, maybe not). Regardless of his choices, with a cast like this one, I’ll be waiting in eager anticipation for this film’s release.

Last Flag Flying tentatively starts production in November.