Richard Linklater makes films about ordinary people making connections. His newest film, Last Flag Flying, isn't too far a departure from his usual meandering, philosophical style except the characters are soldiers and veterans rather than civilians.

Larry (Steve Carrell), Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard (Laurence Fishburne) served together in Vietnam. In the years after the war, Sal ramped up his drinking, Richard found God and Larry got married and raised a son. Two decades later, Larry's wife and son are both dead—his wife from breast cancer, his son a Marine killed in action in Iraq. Larry seeks out his two old war buddies and enlists them to help him transport his son's remains to New Hampshire for burial.

Cranston and Fishburne do yeoman's work as the loudmouthed devil and overly-serious angel on Larry's shoulders, convincing him what the meaning of it all is or offering their respective outlets for coping with grief. But it's Carrell's subdued performance as Larry that deserves serious award consideration. His character demands the least attention of the three, yet his muted devastation is transfixing. We've known for a while now that Carrell is more than just Michael Scott, but his acting here hits like a grenade.

The only gunshots fired in the two-hour runtime are ceremonial. Yet I left the theater feeling emotionally battered like I had just sat through a war movie of a kind only Linklater could make, one that's explained only through conversation.

CRITIC'S RATING: 3/4 stars

Last Flag Flying is rated R and now playing at Living Room.