By Liz Lopez
Sean Penn (The Crossing Guard, (1995); The Pledge (2001); Into the Wild (2007) returns to the director’s seat for the film Flag Day. The deeply flawed individuals in the screenplay, written by Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, are characters in the 2005 memoir “Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit Life” by journalist Jennifer Vogel. Set mostly in the 1970s and 1980s, the film provides a glimpse of early life in the Vogel family in the mid-1970s. John Vogel (Sean Penn) and wife Patty (Katheryn Winnick, “Vikings,” “Big Sky”) live in Minnesota with their children, 6-year-old Jennifer (Addison Tymec) and 4-year-old Nick (Beckam Crawford). What may appear as a happy home initially quickly changes with the sounds of adults fighting. Unfortunately, this is not the only time the disturbing scenes are shown of adults behaving badly in front of their children and later, as they become teens and adults. The child actors cast in the film are very talented, but the film really takes off when Sean Penn’s real-life daughter, Dylan Penn, takes the lead as Jennifer in her teen/adult years. John Vogel fancies himself as an entrepreneur in front of his children, but his wife knows the con man he really is. The actors provide amazing performances of the heartbreak the family lives with each time that John leaves for his next adventure to get rich, but watching Dylan portray the very emotionally broken daughter is the absolute reason to watch the film and the very sad true story. Sean Penn is perfect to portray this character that is extremely out of touch with reality.
There are two really stand out scenes of the two parents who are failing their children, yet they think what they are doing is not so bad. Early in the film, John is driving his family in the middle of the night to the next “big deal” in his life. He invites his 11-year-old daughter to learn how to drive down a winding country road. He then proceeds to take a nap, and insists that she can reach the pedal. The terrified look the daughter has on her face is unforgettable. In the early 1980s, Jennifer (Dylan Penn) is now a teenager and her brother Nick (now portrayed by real-life brother Hopper Penn) live with their mother Patty and her live-in boyfriend/partner, Doc (Norbert Leo Butz). He portrays a great low life behind the mask of a good provider for them. It does not take long before he attempts to sexually assault Jennifer in her bedroom. Her mother’s inaction is beyond deplorable, causing Jennifer to go find her father.
She wants so badly to live together and find a way that this will work despite all their issues. Jennifer’s plan starts to work for her when she gets clean and takes a job, but soon she finds that her father doesn’t know how to do anything different than shady. John robs a bank and has a long stretch in prison, so Jennifer moves on. The film shows us a happier time when Jennifer is in her 20s, has graduated from college and is working for the Minneapolis alternative paper City Pages. One day her father, now paroled, appears at the newspaper’s offices after she hasn’t talked to him in years. She may well decide to talk to him, wish him the best, but ultimately it is not a happy ending.
MPAA Rated R (for language, some drug use and violent content). Running time: 108 minutes.
Crew: Camera: Daniel Moder, Editors: Michelle Tesoro, Valdís Óskarsdóttir. Music: Joseph Vitarelli.
With additional cast: Josh Brolin, Jadyn Rylee, Regina King, Cole Flynn, Beckam Crawford, Bailey Noble, James Juce, Dale Dickey.
Source: United Artists