Thirty years after the war in Vietnam, Larry, a former Navy medic (Steve Carell) looks up his Marine buddies Sal, now a cynical, alcoholic bartender (Bryan Cranston) and Richard, now an evangelical preacher (Laurence Fishburne), and asks them to go with him to the full-heroic-honors funeral being planned at Arlington for his son, who was killed in Iraq.

It’s 2003, and the Bush administration’s PR team is trying to justify its unnecessary war. Photos of returning coffins are not allowed, and heroic backstories are fabricated to put the best face on senseless death. When the three find out how Larry’s son really died, he elects, against strong Pentagon resistance, to take the body home to New Hampshire for a more honest burial.

Though it’s based on a novel by Darryl Ponicsan, a sort-of sequel to the author’s The Last Detail (which Hal Ashby filmed in 1973), Director Richard Linklater has tweaked the source material to make it all his own.

This quietly subversive anti-war film is a timely treatise on patriotism, and though it’s outwardly wise and gentle, it nevertheless packs quite an emotional wallop. And if it falls just short of Linklater’s best, it’s still another reminder that he’s one of the best directors working today. (125 min)