Upcoming film succeeds in 'humanizing combat'
Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne star in Last Flag Flying. (Photo by Wilson Webb/Amazon Studios)

Upcoming film succeeds in 'humanizing combat'

A screening for an upcoming film elicited emotional responses from American Legion members Oct. 10 in Indianapolis during the organization’s annual Fall Meetings.

Legionnaires were treated to a special viewing of Lionsgate/Amazon Studios’ “Last Flag Flying” at the Sheraton Indianapolis City Centre Hotel.

The film, based on Darryl Ponicsan’s novel of the same name and directed by Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee Richard Linklater, tells the story of a Navy Vietnam War veteran who, upon finding out his Marine Corps son is killed in Iraq in 2003, asks two Marines he served with in Vietnam to go with him to pick up his son’s body.

Originally planning on burying his son at Arlington National Cemetery, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) instead decides to bring him back to their home town in New Hampshire. His friends Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard (Laurence Fishburne) accompany him the entire way.

Carell’s performance has created Oscar talk, while the overall film was praised by Legionnaires who viewed it.

“I think (film) does a good job of humanizing combat, showing that it affects not just the combatants,” said Michael Hjelmstad, a member of Post 43 in Hollywood. “With the Marines, people think it’s almost a catchphrase. You’re like ‘that’s what you signed up for. You knew the risks.’ But your family didn’t necessarily sign up for that. It affects not only people that are in (combat), but also a big periphery of people that are around them.”

During the film, Shepherd and his buddies go to pick up his son’s body. There, they learn the circumstances of his death, which didn’t happen during combat.

“I think what this film did a good job of doing is that showing how – I mean every servicemember is a hero – but they show how sometimes your death might not be exactly heroic,” Hjelmstad said.

Hjelmstad, who spent 16 years in the Marines – including combat tours – has since worked as a military technical advisor and filmmaker. He couldn’t help watching the film through those eyes, in addition to just being a member of the audience.

“As a military tech advisor I’m always critiquing the film for accuracy and all that,” he said. “I thought they did a good job. And as a filmmaker, I always (ask), ‘Does it invoke an emotional response?’ It certainly did that.”

Another audience member said he was “speechless. Thank you. It hit the nail on the head.” Others praised the authenticity of the actors portraying Marines. “By chance were the actors real Marines?” another audience member asked. “They acted like it.”

Some audience members cried. Others thanked Thomas Lee Wright, one of the film’s producers who attended the screening. Wright said the production crew received good technical support from the Marines and called the film “a story seldom told - what happens on the home front.”

The film will open in Los Angeles Nov. 3 and nationwide Nov. 22. Watch the trailer here.