The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - FLAG DAY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - FLAG DAY

flag day review
True story of the relationship between criminal John Vogel and his daughter Jennifer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sean Penn

Starring: Sean Penn, Dylan Penn, Katheryn Winnick, Regina King, Josh Brolin

flag day poster

Alfred Hitchcock famously described drama as "life with the dull bits cut out." As much as I respect the master of suspense, I have to disagree with such a reductive take. Some of the greatest movies ever made focus on what Hitch might have considered the "dull bits." In the right hands a woman doing the dishes can be as captivating as a man being chased through a cornfield by a crop-duster.

Sean Penn's latest directorial outing, Flag Day, however, plays a lot like a thriller with all the thrilling bits cut out. It tells the story of John Vogel (Sean Penn), who would enter the annals of American true crime as one of the country's most infamous counterfeiters. Sounds like the basis for a heart-stopping suspense thriller, right? Not so in Penn's film, which adopts the perspective of John's initially doting but ultimately exasperated daughter Jennifer (Dylan Penn, the daughter of Sean and Robin Wright, though you would swear she was the offspring of Patricia Arquette).

flag day review

Sean takes Jennifer Vogel's memoir 'Flim-Flam Man: A True Family History' as its basis, which means we see John solely through the eyes of his daughter. We pick up this family dynamic in 1975, when Jennifer is roughly 12 and John is in his late thirties. John's wife Patty (Katheryn Winnick) is one of those one-dimensional alcoholics so beloved by American movies, and Jennifer enjoys spending time away from Mom and with her father at the latter's log cabin. Six years later, Jennifer has become a pot-smoking, rebellious Joan Jett lookalike and leaves her mom and abusive stepfather to move in with John.

It's in this section that Sean's film comes to life as father and daughter reignite their relationship. John is a trainwreck living a Walter Mittty-esque life. He tells his daughter he's a vague "entrepreneur", but he leaves the home each day with an empty briefcase and works a menial job at a small airfield. Jennifer tries to convince him that he has nothing to be ashamed of, but John is a victim of a society that deems you a failure if you don’t wear a tie to work. Sean and Dylan's offscreen relationship shines through in these scenes, and if we don’t quite get to know enough about the dynamic between John and Jennifer, we're certainly left in no doubt that the director is smitten by his daughter, who proves a talent to watch in the future.

flag day review

It's when father and daughter become separated for most of the second half of the movie that Flag Day struggles to recapture our attention. Jennifer goes on to become a successful journalist, but her career path is rendered in the most simplistic of terms. An interview for a college place features a dean of admissions who might as well use the phrase "You've got moxey kid!" We're told of her progression up the journalistic ladder but we're never shown the work she's rewarded for.

In the final act John and Jennifer are reunited, but we're given details of John's life that make us feel like we've missed out on a far more exciting movie playing out in the background. Just like Jennifer's rise in journalism, we're told John has become one of America's greatest counterfeiters but we're never shown any of the details of this. How did a man who has been portrayed as hapless throughout the whole movie manage to pull off something so complicated?

flag day review

With movies like The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard and The Pledge, Sean Penn has proven himself adept at telling crime stories through a Springsteen-esque lens. His films once had a distinctive view of the American heartland, but too much of Flag Day looks like he's merely copying Terrence Malick with numerous sun-bleached flashbacks of fathers spinning children in their arms and palms massaging wheat.

Flag Day works best when it's simply conveying the love between a troubled parent and a child forced to grow up quickly to take care of them. Everything else falls between decoration and distraction.

Flag Day
 is in UK cinemas and on VOD from January 28th.

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