Richard Linklater is the celebrated writer-director whose films include the Before trilogy, Boyhood, Dazed and Confused and Waking Life. He returns with the poignant Last Flag Flying, an adaptation of the novel by Darryl Ponicsan about three Vietnam veterans (Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne) who reunite 30 years on in the wake of the Iraq war.
ASFF: You tried to get Last Flag Flying going a few years ago. How did it evolve in the interim?
RL: Time has been good to it. I got to adapt it away from the original elements of the book and add more stuff. The Vietnam subplot and their history was added. Over time, it just kept evolving. The basic structure, the relationships, all that was fundamental to the book. But when the film didn’t happen way back then, it suddenly went on the back-burner. We kept revisiting it.
ASFF: What’s the significance about making the film now?
RL: The Iraq war was inexcusable, I think – it was such an open wound throughout most of that first decade. Now it’s a little more abstract and less politicised. Everyone can look back and go: “Oh that wasn’t so good.” Even at the last Republican debates, they asked the candidates, and they all were now against the war. That was only a year-and-a-half ago. Times have definitely changed. Back then, if you said something against the war, like the Dixie Chicks, you were attacked for being an unpatriotic person. Time is good for films. It would be perceived as a very different movie then.
ASFF: In the current political climate in the States, will people view the film with an open mind?
RL: I think so. It represents the military in a very specific but truthful light. That’s kind of what it is like. We tried to get all that right. I think most people who go through the military have their own love-hate with it. It’s hard to get through that – in any country, in any time – and not feel a little screwed over. The chain of command, the bureaucracy of war … it’s a tough experience. People have mixed feelings; in a time of war, even more so.
ASFF: Darryl Ponicsan’s book is his sequel to his earlier novel The Last Detail, adapted in 1973 by Hal Ashby. Did you avoid re-watching Ashby’s film?
RL: I didn’t have to. I’ve seen it numerous times, so I felt I knew it pretty well. And what we were doing didn’t really relate – different time, different vibe.
ASFF: How did you figure out the casting?
RL: They really wanted to work with each other; each guy said to me: “I really like their work – I want to work with them.” They’re all very different. Kind of like their characters. Sal – Bryan [Cranston] was like, “I know this guy!” [Steve] Carell was like, “Why is Doc doing what he’s doing?” We were in a cloud of tragedy! And [Laurence] Fishburne was a little bit of both. It’s funny – you can make it through a whole production and not talk about some really obvious things, but it’s just there as an undercurrent.
Last Flag Flying opens in cinemas from 26 January. For more details, visit: www.curzonartificialeye.com.
1. Still Last Flag Flying. Courtesy of Curzon.