Last Flag Flying

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Despite the star cast, an utterly ordinary war film prevails

The American humiliation in Iraq has caused Hollywood no end of trouble. There have now been close to 50 movies about the Iraq war and almost all of them have been critical failures with just one (the odiously Trump-ette American Sniper) a major box-office hit. In fact Variety has decided that Iraq movies are a “toxic genre”.

The latest attempt at cinema detox is Last Flag Flying, written and directed by Richard Linklater. At first glance Linklater seems an odd choice for a war movie. Previously he has been most famous for his diabetes-inducing “Before…” romances and his stoners-with-boners comedies. The logic is presumably that Linklater is an indie director who can bring something left-field and quirky to this troubled genre. If that was the plan it fails.

The story is straight from the book of generic clichés — veterans escorting the body of a soldier to his funeral. On their journey we know only too well that the vets will bicker and banter but finally bond again. This Journey of Self Discovery with Dead Hero shtick isn’t so much tired as comatose.

Two things might have still got this cadaver twitching with at least some signs of life. First the casting seems top drawer: Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne. But while that ensemble looks good on the poster it looks nothing like so good on the screen. Carell in particular seems to have phoned in his performance from a place with a very poor signal.

Second there is a twist in the formula: the trio of gnarled vets fought in Vietnam while the body they carry is a casualty of the Iraq war.

It would be absurd to load this flimsy movie with too much significance, but here we can glimpse how Hollywood is helping American imperialism to finesse its defeats. Hollywood knows that the Iraq war is unpopular. Hollywood knows that politicians like George W Bush are figures of contempt. Hollywood knows that turds are not polishable. So instead of glorifying the war, it glorifies the war-makers. All the sympathy is centred on those who “served”.

Or rather those who served America. There is absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for the victims of the American war machine — the Vietnamese are still “gooks” and the Iraqis are “ragheads”. On TV screens we see the arrest of Saddam Hussein, but nothing about the atrocities in Abu Ghraib.

Initially Carell rejects the offer of a military funeral, saying, “I don’t want to bury a marine. I just want to bury my son.” But by journey’s end his son will be buried in his marine colours with Fishburne and Cranston performing the ridiculous military pageant in full dress uniform.

Strip away the “indie” pretentiousness, ignore the juvenile swearing and sexual braggadocio and Linklater’s movie is every bit as moronically patriotic as any John Wayne movie. The last flag flying is — did you guess? — still the Stars and Stripes.