One of the champions of ‘indie’ cinema, director Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation (2006) made a scathing attack on the hamburger industry as well as America’s treatment of Mexican ‘illegals’. Me And Orson Welles (2008), a personal favourite, was a bittersweet romance that did not have an orthodox happy ending. Both films were coloured by sad fatalism, but this time around Linklater has lightened up and, though he is just as abrasive in his anti-establishment views, he has displayed a warm-hearted appreciation of ‘what makes a man a man’. Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd (Steve Carell), Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and the Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) are Vietnam vets who have been reunited to collect the body of Larry’s son, who has been killed in Baghdad. The movie is a road trip of sorts, in which the three ex-Marines reminisce and try to come to terms with their actions while on active service that led to Larry doing two years in military prison. They have all changed over the years, of course – the wild man Mueller has found God and taken the cloth, while drunken, foul-mouthed Sal now lives a dissolute life as the owner of a bar. It is these two who argue incessantly over ideology and morality, with Larry the passive, reflective member of the group. Because it is a movie with a lot of dialogue – Linklater has plenty to say about the US, its futile wars and the lies that always accompany them – much depends on the performances of the three leads. The chemistry between them is well established, although I would not have wanted to be in the same room as Sal for any longer that was strictly necessary. Yul Vazquez is outstanding as Colonel Wilits, the officer who insists that Larry’s son be buried in the sacred soil of Arlington, rather than back home in New Hampshire. The mood might be blokey, but the camaraderie is not forced and the conclusion is forgivably sentimental. Dylan’s sublime Not Dark Yet wraps it up.
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