In Review

Film review: Flag Day 

Sean Penn and family star in a film about a swindler 

Sean Penn’s last film as a director “pretty much got him booed off the red carpet” at Cannes, but on the basis of Flag Day, in which he also stars, he has clearly “still got it”, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. In this “very watchable and well-made family drama”, he plays the real-life swindler John Vogel, who was pursued by the FBI in the 1990s for forging $100 bills on an industrial scale. Penn exudes a “buzzard-like watchfulness” as the sociopathic Vogel; his “seductive address to the camera is almost unrivalled”. As a director, too, “he knows how to bring the horsepower”. The film is based on a memoir by Vogel’s daughter, Jennifer (played by Dylan Penn, Sean Penn’s daughter with Robin Wright), a journalist who must come to terms with her father’s ceaseless lies. “There are some pretty broad emotional strokes here”, but the film made “with some style”. 

Penn certainly “makes the utmost” of his “craggily dissolute features”, said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail, but I found him “show-offy”, and the film heavy-handed. Jennifer, who is at the centre of the story, becomes “wincingly over-lyrical in narrating the account of her blighted childhood”; and a subplot about her path into journalism also fails to thrill. The screenplay is by the normally reliable Butterworth brothers, Jez and John-Henry; still, it’s “not a bad film”, with its echoes of Paper Moon (1973) and foot-tapping soundtrack. While there’s a frisson to the familial casting, said Alistair Harkness in The Scotsman – Penn’s son is also in the film – it doesn’t quite make up for the sometimes “hackneyed way the story” plays out. The “Terrence Malick-style camera work” and “ornate voice-over”, meanwhile, seem designed to make the film “seem more profound” than it is.

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