Director Sean Penn returns today to the Cannes Film Festival in official competition with the first film he has ever made in which he also stars.
Flag day is actually a solid and worthwhile effort for him both as an actor and director. But above all, he will be remembered as a dazzling showcase of the acting skills of his daughter, Dylan Penn, who plays the key role in a true story based on the memoir of Jennifer Vogel, Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit Life.
Dylan plays Jennifer (she shares the role with Addison Tymec at 6 and Jadyn Rylee at 11-13) as the film becomes the story of a unique bond between a daughter and a messed up but charismatic father, who has spent many years. years in prison for a bank robbery, was a great schemer and dreamer, and who became the most notorious counterfeiter in US history, single-handedly faking over $ 20 million.
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Still, Jennifer was infatuated with him, as seen from a young age, always ready to follow him on what she saw as life’s great adventures. It was there that she learned the joy, but also came close to descending down the same rabbit hole as her father, who left the family, which included his brother Nick (later played by Penn’s son, Hopper Jack Penn), and his ex-wife Patty (Katheryn Winnick), who finds herself constantly in conflict with a rebellious Jennifer, who, like a moth to a flame, hits the road and eventually finds her father’s path, a conflicting relationship that it is difficult for her to get out, even though she is making her own way.
Penn is excellent in this role, one that fits him perfectly, taking him emotionally from the top down, an underworld guy who always feels one step away from the American dream, but never able to make it happen, a criminal incapable of s ‘helping himself, a tragic figure in many ways, but a person we might even know.
The film actually opens with Jennifer being debriefed on her father’s issues by US Marshall Blake (Regina King in a two-scene cameo that ends the film) and it then launches non-linearly through three separate eras in Jennifer’s life like her story, and that of her father, unfolds through her own memories and later as an emerging journalist, a true dream of her own that was almost carried over by a few bad decisions and the shadow of her family ties.
Yet as she lands a small job at a local newspaper, we see her own growth as a young woman emerging from obscurity. The real Jennifer Vogel has risen above her own nearly destroyed life and become a model, and she is played to perfection by a revealing performance by Dylan Penn, which reveals multiple layers of depth and becomes the true heart and the soul of this film. Clearly, Dylan (whose mother is Robin Wright, Penn’s ex-wife) has inherited his parents’ acting skills and keeps that promise in a multidimensional role that strongly establishes him as a star in the making.
Sean Penn takes on the role of John Vogel with the usual bravado and power, as we watch this man’s life ignite. He is memorable here in a film that belongs to his daughter. It’s a real family affair, as his son Hopper also gets a few scenes as a son who stays true to his mother and family roots as his sister takes a walk on the wild side.
Winnick is superb, with his own dynamic moments. Josh Brolin appears briefly as Uncle Beck, and there is a wonderful, if too brief, supporting role for the glorious Dale Dickey as Grandma Margaret.
Tony’s two-time winner Norbert Leo Butz is fine as Patty’s second husband, and Eddie Marsan is welcome in a small role as well. As a director, Penn knows how to cast for sure, and it’s a case to keep him in the family that really pays off. With a thrilling storyline by playwrights Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, the focus here is on family ties and relationships, not the astonishing bogus bill system that made John a target of the law, a story that could be a pretty different movie all of its own. Flag day was produced by William Horberg (currently on the rise with The Queen’s Gambit), Jon Kilik and Fernando Sulichin.
As with many Penn films, the soundtrack is to die for and features some lovely original songs from Eddie Vedder, Glen Hansard, and Cat Power. With his fourth film in competition at Cannes (after 1991 The Indian runner, 2001 The commitment, and 2016 last face) it is a return to power behind the camera that he has exhibited many times in films which also include the formidable 2007 film. In nature, and another star from Jack Nicholson, The Brigadier (1995).
As a filmmaker, he’s drawn to strong character-driven dramas, and he’s found another excellent one in Flag Day. MGM regained national rights and releases on August 20.