Flag Day Review

Flag Day
Jennifer (Dylan Penn) is the daughter of John (Sean Penn), a career criminal and eternally failing dad. When she learns that he’s been killed by police, who were pursuing him for the crime of counterfeiting over $20 million, she looks back on their troubled but loving relationship.

by Olly Richards |
Published on
Release Date:

28 Jan 2022

Original Title:

Flag Day

Sean Penn’s latest directing gig gives his daughter, Dylan Penn, a solid showcase for her acting potential. Through many earnest scenes, she acquits herself well, showing some of the bruised quality demonstrated her mother, Robin Wright. The film itself is a father-daughter drama with a hazy, Terrence Malick-y romanticism but little emotional connection.

Flag Day

Based on a memoir by Jennifer Vogel, it’s the story of a daughter’s (Penn Jr) endlessly forgiving love for her father, John (Penn Sr), a petty criminal who becomes one of the biggest cash counterfeiters in the US. Jez and John-Henry Butterworth’s script is surprisingly thin; self-consciously florid dialogue — John’s depression is described as “the light, fluttering music of dad [fading] into darkness” — can’t disguise a lack of truth to the characters. The film seems determined that John is a fascinating enigma, with his daughter repeatedly forgiving his neglect and stupid schemes because she sees the man he could be. That man is barely glimpsed by us. How he becomes a master criminal and why he deserves endless patience remain a mystery.

Directing himself for the first time, Sean Penn allows himself a great deal of actorly excess.

Penn evokes time and place well. The look is derivative, with obvious shades of Malick, John Cassavetes and Easy Rider, but he doesn’t seem to be pretending otherwise and he imitates stylishly, strongly aided by Daniel Moder’s cinematography. Although his tone is more brash. When Penn allows the father-daughter scenes to stay quiet, there’s some weight to them – years of mutual disappointment sitting in the silences. Too often, though, Penn equates volume with emotion, his scenes descending into shouting. Directing himself for the first time, he allows himself a great deal of actorly excess. By direction or instinct, Dylan Penn acts at a lower pitch and she’s all the more affecting for it.

Any success Flag Day has really comes down to stunt casting. There’s an innate nosy interest in seeing parents and children act together (son Hopper also gets a modest role), to see what family dynamics might sneak in and who might be coasting on nepotism (nobody). The real-life relationship also lends a bit of unearned history to the onscreen characters. Viewed on its own merits, though, Flag Day is just pretty cinematography and counterfeit emotion.

Far from the best of Penn’s directing work but also not the worst (The Last Face is unlikely to lose that dubious crown). Dylan emerges the most triumphant Penn from a largely boring drama.
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