Written by Taylor Baker
The melodramatic and forced Flag Day is Sean Penn’s first foray picking up the camera since his critically panned follow up to Into the Wild, The Last Face. It is notably also the first time he’s directed himself in a film. Flag Day itself is an adaptation of Jennifer Vogel’s story (the character Sean’s daughter Dylan Penn plays.) written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. It pins Sean’s John Vogel as an everyman who’s committing crime to take care of his daughter.
Penn frequently utilizes tight half frame close ups during dialogue scenes. Daniel Moder’s camera has a complimentary fuzzy grain, imagining things a bit more warmly than they actually were. That same grain adorns the natural light with a physical texturous quality that causes the film oftentimes to glow.
It foolishly relies on narration from Dylan’s Rebecca(one recalls the disastrous Blade Runner theatrical cut to mind, with Harrison as a lamenting noir-esque investigator), to instruct us on the experience of her youth and the man her father was. Rather than committing to show us it’s narrative, it tells the viewer unceasingly who these characters are and their experiences. Hopper Penn, Sean’s son briefly appears in the film, and though the Penn children are still young enough to develop, there’s very little put into the film here that seems indicative of a bright future. For either of the Penn siblings.
Flag Day is over edited. With collage sequences, and constant cutting when a weighty moment isn’t occurring. It’s plotted events are too cute, too tightly knit, nothing is afforded a chance to breathe. It forces perspective that doesn’t translate sincerity so much as severity. The well documented severity of by all accounts of a disillusioned Sean Penn who’s tried his hand writing a novel, won the lead actor Oscar Award twice(once for Mystic River in 2004 & once for Milk in 2009.), and now simultaneously has nothing and everything left to prove. A master performer who finds performing close to hollow and is now looking to other avenues of storytelling and unconventional stories to find meaning, purpose, or something of worth.
Despite all these faults Flag Day showcases that Sean does indeed still have it in front of the camera, despite the melodramatic absurdity that accompanies what it is that he is bringing to the table. No lines work as well as his, aside from the brief turns from respective powerhouses Josh Brolin and Eddie Marsan. This paired with Cinematographer Daniel Moder’s rustic American fabric like images demonstrate Flag Day does have some merit. Though it’s themes and narrative ring with as much resonance as a lone drumstick tearing thru a single sheet of paper.
Flag Day Trailer
Flag Day is currently playing in limited theatrical release.
You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on Letterboxd, Twitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.