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  Flag Day Dunce In A Lifetime
Year: 2021
Director: Sean Penn
Stars: Dylan Penn, Sean Penn, Katheryn Winnick, Josh Brolin, Regina King, Dale Dickey, James Russo, Eddie Marsan, Adam Hurtig, Hopper Penn, Norbert Leo Butz, Bailey Noble, Jadyn Rylee, Addison Tymec, Beckam Crawford, Nigel Fisher
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 1992 Jennifer Vogel (Dylan Penn) was called to a local police station to be given some very bad news about her father, but truth be told it was nothing she could not have guessed for herself. The U.S. Marshal (Regina King) outlines the crimes of John Vogel (Sean Penn), mainly concerning counterfeiting of money, and this sets Jennifer thinking on what got her to this point with her parent, a man who was absent for long stretches of her life but whom she always had a strange faith in, up to the point when it was clear this faith was misplaced. Take when she was a little girl, for example, back in the nineteen-seventies, and she recalls the time when the family unit was actually together, really for the last time she could remember...

Flag Day was based on a true story, a book in fact, by journalist Jennifer Vogel who detailed the problems she had with her father who embraced crime to get by, yet would be in denial that he was a criminal despite it all. He had what might be called a memorable conclusion to this existence, which is recreated here only with added melodrama and plot convenience to give it more of a punch, though in effect it was dramatic enough as it was, and this illustrated the shapeless structure of the film, which flitted from one incident to another without feeling as if it had shed any more light on the personality of John than could have been discerned from the first ten minutes. Penn was too good of an actor to coast through this, but his messed up screen persona was a familiar one.

Penn was directing Flag Day, but this was not as accomplished as his best film in that capacity, Into the Wild, though even that film had an issue that was not present here, thankfully: there was no painting John as a misunderstood hero, he is a man who causes damage and won't take responsibility for sabotaging the lives of those around him. This was at its best when depicting the essential purposelessness of these in-between folks, and you are convinced when you see their hopeless nature: as this showed, Penn is very effective at portraying no-hopers such as this man, with half-sympathy, half-accusation for the characters to contend with. Dylan Penn, his daughter, fared less well, given an interesting story arc that we'd seen in Erin Brockovich that was flattened by coming across as a collection of cliches, no matter the truth of Jennifer Vogel's career.

And how she struggled to rise above her background that could have sunk many a less determined soul: that was a tale of inspiration, but the treatment in this was akin to a TV movie of the week offered direction by a Terrence Malick wannabe, all soft light though the grass fields as the sun goes down and faux banal voiceover to underline the unpretentious quality of Jennifer's observations. Sean Penn's son Hopper Penn was there too, as Jennifer's brother who stays with his mother (Katheryn Winnick), largely because their stepfather wasn't trying to rape him as he was Jennifer, but this was more dysfunctional business to add to the pile. After a while, you did get somewhat numb to one damn thing after another unspooling across the screen, and Penn's acting dominated even though he was only in about half the movie, leaving something of a wallow in the realm of the disadvantaged for those Hollywood folks to indulge in. The crucial point being, some of these no-hopers disadvantage themselves, and some disadvantage others, which for its flaws, was a message worth taking away from this. Music by Joseph Vitarelli.

[Vertigo Releasing presents Flag Day in cinemas and on digital 28 January 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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