Flag Day

Written by Taylor Baker

34/100

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 LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Interview: Sophia Banks Talks About Directing Short Film ‘Proxy’

Sophia Banks’s short film Proxy focuses on a woman who gets more than she bargained for in her life of work. Proxy has screened at multiple the Oscar-qualifying film festivals including HollyShorts Film Festival, Lone Star Film Festival, Louisville International Festival of Film, and Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival.  

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

Last year, some good friends of mine, Dominick Joseph Luna and Emma Booth and I were chatting and realized that they were coming to LA where I was living at the time. We always had wanted to do a project together but never found the right time or place to do it. Dominick had some great concepts he pulled from research and one of them was based off of the idea of boutique services they’re offering in Japan right now: “people for hire” that could stand in for someone to fulfill a role. I loved the idea and we developed the story. Once they arrived in LA we decided to just go for it. We put together the team in a few short weeks and shot it over the last day of February and the first day of March, just before the lockdown hit. We were really fortunate to have gotten it done just before because we were able to complete the editing and the rest of post production remotely, which worked really well.

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

Funny enough, there weren’t too many changes that we made. We really stuck with the original vision, which was to showcase Victoria (Booth) as this woman who is struggling with her own disconnect and internal turmoil as she is being beaten down emotionally and physically through these increasingly terrifying scenarios. 

Performance is a big theme throughout your film, especially with regards to gender, sex, and the intersection of those. Would you mind talking a bit more about that and how you discuss those ideas in your film?

I think that I always like to touch on those because underlying these stories I like to tell is the underlying idea of “freedom”. In Proxy, Victoria faces the entrapment of a job that she feels obligated to do, put in situations thrown at her that she may or may not agree with — but she has to do it, it is her job after all. The journey she goes through is eye opening in that I hope others might take away from it a little semblance of what our hero experiences: the heroes own self realization and expression of that truth. 

What were the biggest challenges in creating a slightly futuristic world that still needed to feel familiar? Did you ever consider making it “harder” sci-fi?

It is interesting because for my first short film Unregistered, I really heavily designed and created an entirely futuristic world. We have over 300 special effects in that short film that I put a lot of thought into it. It was unmistakable that it was in fact set in a future Dystopian society. 

For Proxy, we wanted it to be more grounded — almost impossible to know whether this was 10 years or 50 years into the future. I think it adds to that ominous factor. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

I partly see Proxy as a cautionary tale: the more connected we are the further we grow apart in reality. That is what social media is to me. I also see it as a message of rebellion of what society has seen as the “new norm”. We are so afraid to go against the grain, we are comfortable with a routine. Sometimes we need to take a step back and perhaps come to terms with the fact that the “norm” may not be the best for us. 

What are your top three sci-fi films from the last decade or so?

Hard question! I would have to lean into the “or so” since I am a huge fan of the classic Sci-Fi such as Blade Runner, (2001: A) Space Odyssey and The Thing as well as Alien. I like the darker side of sci-fi for sure.

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of Proxy or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website