Noticing this title along with it's cast, and checking out the trailer when posting last week's DVD and Blu-ray choices, I got to thinking a couple of different things. One, I really felt like this was a title I needed to check out, and two, to refer to my DVD/Blu-ray list more often for these Under the Radar reviews. I'm veering away from Oscar territory now, as the Oscar Special has started today. But I'm rambling, so let's just get on with the review, shall we?
For starters I'd like to mention that this one is directed by Richard Linklater, who most know as the 'Dazed and Confused' guy, more recently the 'Boyhood' guy, or to some, like myself, the oh so deep 'Waking Life' guy. The final product here is his take on the middle-aged every-man adventure. In a similar vein to something like 'Wild Hogs' or last year's 'Going in Style'.
Our main character, Larry "Doc" Shepherd (Steve Carell) walks into a bar owned by Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), an old Vietnam war buddy. They spend all night catching up, where there's brief mention of Doc's bad-conduct discharge and incarceration, which becomes an unfolding side story as the film goes on, and we get to know the characters better. The pair head to a church in the morning where they find another old friend from Nam, Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) who has since become the church's pastor.
Once they're all together, Doc informs them that his son was killed in action in Iraq, and that it would mean a lot for them to attend his funeral. However once they do, they discover what exactly happened, and the truth leads Doc to want to take his son home with him, and bury him in his graduation suit. Meanwhile the government believes very strongly that he should be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and sends the son's friend, Washington (J. Quinton Johnson) to retrieve the son's body for them.
One can probably see this as a strong political anti-war statement against the American government. There's a lot of reflection on their experiences in Vietnam, and comparison to the war in Iraq as we actually see our three main characters doing a lot of male bonding with Washington tagging along for the ride. It doesn't get super deep and thought provoking, but it ends up being an interesting character study of a few main characters who have been affected by war.
One of the very interesting things about this movie, I found, was that even though Doc is the main character, this ends up being a bit more of a Sal and Richard picture. Doc's whole mission is just the main part of the story. Otherwise, he's actually rather quiet through most of the movie. Meanwhile, Sal and Richard are essentially playing Doc's battling conscience. Sal always wants to be the ballsy one, not caring what anyone thinks, and essentially fearless, but Richard is much more of a thinker about situations they run into, and far more diplomatic, wanting to do what's right for everyone. Meanwhile, Doc seems to have a bit of trouble thinking for himself a lot of the time. The only thing he's 100% sure on in this is getting his son back home and out of the government's hands.
The whole thing kinda builds to a nice little ending, and all in all, it's touching. But I can't deny that I found a few plot holes along the way. For example, nothing really seems to come from Washington being ordered to bring this kid's body back. Unless of course I missed it. Sometimes you just have to blink.
The real way to enjoy this movie, though, is to watch the whole bonding process with these guys. You can tell that they were great, close friends, even with Richard and Sal's constant arguing. They seem to have a bit of a love/hate thing going with each other.
Despite a few problems here and there, it still manages to be a very warm movie, and you do end up liking these characters in the end despite how you may feel about them in the beginning. It's just a nice little indie film from Amazon you can throw on, on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing spectacular, but certainly very enjoyable all the same.