First Hit: This film may start out to mean more to "boomers" and veterans than other people, but it wonderfully explores a lot of topics and emotions.
We join two old veteran friends, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) getting drunk in Sal’s bar. This scene sets up who they are perfectly. Doc is quiet, of heavy mind and Sal is full of quips, pointed sarcasm and likes to drink, a lot.
They became friends when they met fighting together in the Vietnam war. But as many vets know, sometimes when thrust together in crisis, the bond that is created crosses time. In the early bar scene, who they are, what they were, and the commitment to the bond is brought to light by how easily Sal leaves his bar by turning over the keys to someone else and goes out on an unannounced road trip with his friend Doc.
The trip is to a church where Reverend Richard Muller (Laurence Fishburne) is preaching. The moment Sal and Doc walk in, Sal bursts into a broad grin. Their third friend from Vietnam is now a preacher. Sal is beside himself at the change in “Muller the Mauler.” According to Sal, Muller was one of the most raucous men he knew and hung out with. Now a preacher? Sal cannot believe it.
Muller is reticent about meeting his old buddies because he’s now a man of God and to meet again the guys because of their history. They knew him as a man who did a lot of non-Christian things. And them knowing this is tough. The reason for Doc bringing these guys together is because he wants these men help him honor his son whom was a Marine and was just killed in Iraq.
After some funny dinner and desert scenes, Muller agrees to join Sal on Docs mission to honor his son. The body is coming to Dover AFB and will be buried, with honors, at Arlington. Sal is told his son was a hero and died protecting his men. However, as the story unfolds the men discover that the boy was shot in the back of the head when he was buying a soft drink for his buddies.
They learn this from Larry’s sons best Marine friend, Washington (J. Quinton Johnson) who accompanied the body back home. When Doc learns about how the government lied about his boy’s death, he doesn’t want him buried at Arlington but wants to take him home to New Hampshire.
This decision brings on a whole host of arguments, agreements, and an uncovering of the depth of the men's friendship, Washington’s friendship with Doc’s son, how the government lies, and the importance of truth.
The film shows these discoveries while they eat together, drive together, sit on the train together and buy cell phones together. One of the most fun scenes, showing the depth of each character, is when the four of them are sitting in the luggage car of the train next to the coffin. The dialogue was sublime, real and on target for each of the characters.
This film is about friendship and how it surpasses time. It is about how men become brothers. It is about how the government will lie to parents of dead soldiers. It is about honor. It is about truth. The sets and scenes were exquisitely created and it kept the audience’s attention through each segment.
Cranston was killer. His quips, jabs, self-effacing comments, and drive created a character worth watching. I kept wondering what would come out of his mouth next. Carell was perfect as the quiet one who spoke loudly with his trust in his fellow vets. The breadth of emotions, partially bottled up by the role, was perfectly expressed. Fishburne was outstanding. His voice perfect for being a holier than thou voice as a preacher, then switching to his foul mouth Marine voice was perfect. Johnson was amazing as the Doc’s sons best friend. While lying on Doc’s couch looking up at pictures of his lost friend and the family was so touching. Yul Vazquez as Colonel Wilits was great. He exemplified the role of holding on to the governments pride of service. Richard Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan wrote a fabulous screenplay. Under Linklater’s direction this film was amazingly full-bodied and pointed. Its focus on the characters and how they unfolded through the film was spot-on perfect.
Overall: This is a very full-bodied film and embraces both life and death equally.