Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, and Laurence Fishburne all star in the new film, Last Flying Flag, which hits theaters Nov. 3. Even though you might expect those three actors to get together for a buddy comedy about middle aged men, that's only the half of it, because Last Flag Flying has a surprisingly somber premise. The film follows three Vietnam War veterans who reunite about 30 years later to attend the funeral of one of their sons who was killed in the Iraq war. It sounds like a sorrowful yet likely turn of events, but is Last Flag Flying a true story? In actuality, the movie, directed by Richard Linklater, is based on a fictional novel, so it's made up, but it does capture a tribulation that many American families face.
It's a common occurrence for the offspring of a war veteran to also join the military, so the fact that Carell's character loses his son to war after he fought for the army is unfortunately a relatable story to many in this country. A 2016 study about military families published by Time reveals, "80 percent of recent troops come from a family where at least one parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, sibling or cousin has also worn their nation’s uniform." Furthermore, over 25 percent of new recruits have a parent who has served in the military. In the U.S. fighting for one's country, whether it be in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force, is often a family tradition.
The plot of Last Flag Flying, though, is not quite as realistic. The film follows the three men's journey to transport the coffin of the fallen soldier from Virginia to New Hampshire so Carell's character can bury his son close to home. In this sense, it's a film similar in ways to Linklater's recent hit Boyhood, which also features road trips and reunions of estranged friends and families, and it also shows the usually comedic Carell in a much different light than most fans have seen him in before.
Don't expect him to be chattering away in this movie, though. As Linklater explained to The Daily Beast, he had a hard time using his typical dialog-heavy tactics in this new movie because the subject matter, which happened to be close to home for him, is something many people don't typically want to talk about. “That’s how my dad was,” Linklater explained. “He caught the end of the Korean War. Steve Carell’s dad was a World War II guy. And they don’t talk much about it. So there’s a lot of unspoken unknowns.”
Even if the film is based on fiction, war and loss are subjects that have touched almost all Americans, including Cranston, who grew up in a military family himself. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Cranston explained, "My dad was a naval pilot in World War II, and my mom joined the Coast Guard just after the war." The actor also told THR about how he feels about the two wars portrayed in Last Flag Flying, saying, "Vietnam and Iraq, it’s like, wait a minute, it’s less clear. In fact, it’s very ambiguous as far as whether we should be there at all."
Over the course of its duration from 2003-2011, 4,486 American soldiers died fighting in Iraq, according to The Huffington Post. Meanwhile over 90,000 U.S. military personnel died during the Vietnam War, according to PBS. Surely each of the men and women who fought in both wars, both in real life and the movie, were affected by its many casualties, and Last Flag Flying connects the two battles together in a poignant way.
Even though the story of a veteran's son dying is obviously sad, not all moments in Last Flag Flying are completely about the harsh realities of war. The fact that three middle aged men are reunited after many years apart allows it to have a balance of both bitterness and sweetness. It's not exactly a "the boys are back in town" sing-along event, but the movie is as much about the passage of time as it is about the devastating consequences of war, and there are likely aspects of it to which anyone could relate.