Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne are solid as Vietnam vets on a mission in Richard Linklater’s latest

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A road trip becomes a soul-baring journey for three Vietnam veterans in Richard Linklater’s timely, telling comic-drama “Last Flag Flying.”

Those vets are played by Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston, a sound squad of acting talent who chew into Linklater’s meaty script, co-written by Darryl Ponicsan and adapted from his 2005 book, a sequel to his earlier “The Last Detail.” This is a story about friendship, family and casualties of war, with themes that resonate in today’s landscape of National Anthem protests and questions about what it means to be patriotic.

It’s 2003, and ‘Doc’ Shepherd (a commendable Carell) shows up in the dimly lit dive bar manned by his old friend Sal (Cranston). Sal doesn’t recognize him at first, but soon they’re trading old tales and sleeping one off in the corner booth. But Shepherd’s visit is more than just a drop-in: He’s there because he wants Sal to accompany him while he buries his son, who was just killed in the Iraq war.

Before they go, they scoop up a third buddy, Richard Mueller (Fishburne), once known as “Mueller the Mauler” who has now settled into a quiet life as a reverend. He’s not into taking a trip down memory lane, but he’s compelled by the gravity of the mission.

And off they go, learning some tough truths along the way. “Last Flag Flying” is about the lies we tell ourselves, the lies the government tells us, the fights we fight and how they all inform the memories we mold. The three leads create a strong ensemble — Linklater vet J. Quinton Johnson (“Everybody Wants Some!!”) does fine work, as well — and Linklater gives it the right mix of grit and valor. It stings, but it should.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Last Flag

Flying’

GRADE: B+

Rated R for language throughout including some sexual references

Running time: 124 minutes

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