Linklater Rarely Does Lackluster (Movie Review) by Alison Ross Richard Linklater's movies are first and foremost in-depth character studies. Each of his flicks - from his foray into film, Slacker, through his lesser-known narratives like Tape or more celebrated film fare like the Before series and Boyhood, to his latter-day cinematic features like Everybody Wants Some and Last Flag Flying - all flaunt fleshedout characterization as the driving force. A film with narrowly-drawn characters does not exist in the Linklater movie-verse. Too, the characters in the Linklater cosmos are usually fraught with maddening ambiguities in the director's divine quest to achieve as much verisimilitude as possible. Linklater revels in tracing the soaring highs and plumbing the dark depths of his film personae as a way, perhaps, to explore his own polarized persona, and as a way to comment on the ubiquitous dichotomy of human nature. What sets Last Flag Flying apart, perhaps, is how the characters go on a literal trip to self-actualization as opposed to the metaphorical ones in most of his other movies. Sure, there is traveling in the Before series movies, but it exists almost as a backdrop to the showcased story, whereas in Last Flag Flying, the excursion is the point, the raison d'etre, of the narrative. The trio of protagonists, just as they were transformed by trauma in their shared Vietnam experience, are once again metamorphosed during their joint journey up the east coast to bury one of the men's soldier sons who died in Iraq. Each character is a study of archetypes whose complexities run deep: Carrell's character, a shy solemn wallflower with bursts of soulful vigor; Cranston's paragon of frat-boy bravado whose rebel streak betrays a golden heart, and Laurence's preacher, a former ne'er do well who over-corrected his wayward past by becoming a holy man. Add to that endearing mix of men a heavy dose of anti-war sentiment that nonetheless refuses to disrespect the actual men forced into battle, and you have a concoction of pure conviction. Linklater rarely does lackluster, after all.
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