Director and co-writer Richard Linklater (Everybody Wants Some!) takes up the story of Larry (Steve Carell), a recently widowed Vietnam veteran who journeys to collect the body of his son after the boy dies serving as a Marine in Iraq. For support, Larry turns to a couple of fellow vets: motor-mouthed extrovert Sal (Bryan Cranston) and God-fearing convert Richard (Laurence Fishburne). They agree, less out of affection than out of shared history — including an awful episode that is the reason why, as one of them puts it, Larry did time, Richard got God, and Sal got drunk. Linklater’s tricky brand of knowing earnestness helps in his portrayals here: the conflicted vets, proud of their service but ashamed of their government; the grieving father, proud of his son but crushed by his own loss; the genuine Christian, proud of his faith but hesitant about his mission. (Not for nothing do we meet him preaching about surrendering to God’s will.) But the very real humanity on display only serves to highlight the distracting artifice of other elements: the hateful Colonel with an agenda, Sal’s overdone speechifying and hijinks, and the strangely positive glow suffusing the conclusion. The result is that the film winds up like both its subjects and the military they served in: sincere in its objectives, compromised in its execution.
Length: 2 hours, 4 minutes