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Review: Flag Day (2021)

Flag Day (2021)

Directed by: Sean Penn | 109 minutes | crime, drama | Actors: Sean Penn, Dylan Penn, Hopper Penn, Josh Brolin, Katheryn Winnick, Eddie Marsan, Dale Dickey, Bailey Noble, Norbert Leo Butz, Adam Hurtig, Regina King, Jadyn Rylee, Nigel Fisher

‘Flag Day’, directed by Sean Penn, is a real family project. Sean shares the screen with his daughter, Dylan. His son Hopper is also in the cast. The two children, born from the relationship with his former other half Robin Wright (known to many as Jenny from ‘Forrest Gump’, 1994) are very similar in appearance to their father. But when it comes to acting talent, the differences between the trio could not be greater. The posterity leaves very little impression here.

The story of ‘Flag Day’ focuses on Jennifer Vogel (Dylan) and her complicated relationship with her father, John (Sean). The film shows different stages in their lives, with an uninspired voice-over that guides us through the years. While Jennifer tries to put order in her life, John always makes a mess. He is a manipulative career criminal who does not shy away from getting his daughter into trouble. Sometimes Jennifer and John have genuine fun together, but when push comes to shove, she’s always a victim of her father’s troubles. However, Jennifer has a hard time letting go of John. After all, it remains her lord…

After the critically razed film ‘The Last Face’ (2016), Sean Penn is back with an all-new goof. “Flag Day,” based on Jennifer Vogel’s memoir, is an utterly unsatisfactory and uninteresting viewing experience. Besides some predictable character arcs and a dozen of cheap stereotypes, this movie has an incredibly slow pace. Scenes ripple along quietly, often without any form of drama or atmosphere building. What remains is a wide gala of shaky acting performances.

After casting Viggo Mortensen (“The Indian Runner”, 1991), Jack Nicholson (“The Crossing Guard”, 1995 & “The Pledge”, 2001) and Emile Hirsch (“Into the Wild”, 2007) in the lead roles of his films, ‘Flag Day’ is now Penn’s first directing work in which he himself acts. A good decision, because at least he can count on his own solid acting performance, as the rest of the cast falls short on just about every front.

Daughter Dylan and son Hopper do not want to convince here. Besides the fact that they do not have the capacity to naturally realize emotion, their casting in this film is laced with unbelievability. Both actors (also brother and sister in the film itself) play teenagers in the first half of the film, while in real life they are in their late twenties and early thirties. These parts of the film are hardly to be taken seriously and would have fitted much better in an absurd farce.

When talented actors like Eddie Marsan, Josh Brolin and Regina King suddenly pass by, things start to get really bizarre. The characters played by these actors leave little impression and the time they are offered in this film is only a few minutes. When Sean Penn cast some celebrities in small roles for ‘Into the Wild’ (Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook, Vince Vaughn) he had a practical purpose; these actors played crucial key roles for the development of the main character. This time there is no overriding importance. Just moments where you can say, “Hey, I recognize that actor!”

It’s a shame that ‘Flag Day’ turned out to be a failure. On rare occasions you do notice Penn’s love for the source material. Nevertheless, you immediately start to wonder why exactly Penn wanted to make this film. To be able to provide work for his son and daughter? To be able to act together with them? As some sort of processing ritual? Searching for answers is actually too much to ask. ‘Flag Day’ is a movie you’d better forget about soon.

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