In book form, Darryl Ponicsan’s 2005 novel Last Flag Flying was a sequel to his breakthrough Vietnam War-era story, The Last Detail, which begat a 1973 film featuring a career-best performance by Jack Nicholson. But Bryan Cranston would like it to be known that he’s not playing Nicholson in Richard Linklater‘s new film version of Last Flag Flying, which opens in theaters on Friday. “We’re different characters,” he tells Yahoo Entertainment of what distinguishes Last Flag Flying‘s Sal from The Last Detail‘s Billy. “Richard and Darryl were very careful in crafting this one to make sure we weren’t walking in those footsteps. Because I certainly didn’t want to be told, ‘OK, you’re going to be Jack Nicolson.’ I would be a pale comparison!”
That said, Cranston does allow that Billy and Sal share a certain similar sensibility. In The Last Detail, Nicholson’s young Navy signalman was often the brash instigator of trouble as he and fellow officer Richard Mulhall (Otis Young), escorted disgraced sailor Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to prison. Likewise, Sal, a former Marine who fought in Vietnam and now tends bar in the wilds of Virginia, always looks for an opportunity to stir the proverbial pot. That predilection is on display in this exclusive clip from Last Flag Flying — which is set in 2003 against the backdrop of the Iraq War — where Sal interrogates a colonel (Yul Vazquez) over the circumstances behind the death of a soldier recently returned from the front lines in a coffin. (Watch the scene above.)
The aging Marine does have a personal connection to this particular casualty of war. The dead soldier is the only son of Sal’s former comrade in arms, Larry Meadows (Steve Carell). Larry has enlisted a reluctant Sal and their mutual friend Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to help him lay his child to rest. Where Larry is willing to accept the military’s version of events, Sal can’t restrain himself from challenging authority. “I know guys like Sal,” Cranston says. “He takes up all the air in the room, and yet he’s also a tried and true friend. He’ll do anything for you. It may be for the wrong reasons! There’s a nobility and honesty to him. You know who he is.”
Last Flag Flying opens in theaters on Friday.
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