VOD film review: Flag Day
Ivan Radford | On 04, Feb 2022
Director: Sean Penn
Cast: Sean Penn, Dylan Penn, Hopper Penn, Josh Brolin, Katheryn Winnick, Eddie Marsan
“What do you do?” “I’m an entrepreneur.” That’s Jennifer (Dylan Penn) and her father, John (Sean Penn), in Flag Day, a family drama in more ways than one. Directed by Sean Penn, it stars him and his real-life daughter as the real-life father-daughter pair – John, a notorious forger, and Jennifer, who went on to become a successful reporter and write a memoir about her life.
That rise, from the complicated mess of her family background to forge a future while reconciling with her past, is ostensibly the main narrative at play here, but Flag Day’s problem is that it wants to spend more time focusing on her enigmatic father figure. Sean Penn plays him turned up to 11, whether it’s muttering and pining with regret or shouting with deluded entitlement – all of which makes it difficult to buy him as a plausible person, or understand why Jennifer would be willing to forgive him time and time again.
It’s credit to Dylan Penn’s committed performance that she brings some more convincing notes to her character, but it’s an uphill struggle thanks to a script by Jez and John Henry Butterworth that ties itself up in convoluted flourishes rather than let the natural chemistry between the Penns underpin the story. Penn’s direction is similarly heavy-handed, but crafts some Terrence Malick-tinged visuals that are pretty on the eye.
The more Penn turns the camera on himself, though, the more the film’s strengths seem surface-level. Singer-songwriter Glen Hansard (Once) contributes some moving material to the soundtrack, but it’s drowned out by the cliches that play out elsewhere, not least a climactic police chase that feels like it’s trying to hard to tug on our heart strings. The result is as enigmatic as John’s grifter, and, sadly, feels similarly counterfeit.