After his previous effort The Last Face was cut to ribbons at the 2016 festival, Sean Penn is back in competition at Cannes this year with a bittersweet family drama. Flag Day is based on the memoir Flim-Flam Man (a title that should have been kept for this adaptation) by Jennifer Vogel, a journalist whose father was a convicted bank robber, counterfeiter and all-round shammer.
The film takes us through the protagonist’s childhood, showing us her rose-tinted memories of family road trips through infinite cornfields of patriotic celebrations, when really her father pathologically spent above his means and burned down their home with the bank’s foreclosure. Unable to cope with responsibilities, John Vogel leaves his wife and children and proceeds to occupy a volatile role in their lives. As Jennifer’s relationship with her mother becomes strained and destructive, the girl repeatedly tries to find ways to live with her father, whom she still views as a hero. In her teenage years, she finally succeeds but is forced to accept the harsh truth that he is not who he pretends to be.
Penn himself stars as the eponymous “bastard born on a flag day”, alongside his daughter Dylan Penn and his son Hopper Penn, who plays Jennifer’s brother. It was a brave choice for the actor-director to tackle such a complex dynamic with his own child. Though it’s impossible to know the psychological impact this may have had on the actors, when it comes to the representation of their on-screen relationship, it pays off. The mutual trust they place on one another is perceptible in their performances. Through their vibrant bond, they even manage to overcome some minor weak points in the script. Even the brief supporting character appearances are star-studded: Josh Brolin features as the well-meaning uncle and Eddie Marsan and Regina King each have cameos.
Flag Day is a wholly atmospheric film. What puts a dampener on the feature, though, is its predictability. With no room for twists, turns or surprises, the picture keeps the audience’s emotions at bay, and as such, it is hardly a serious contender for the Palme d’Or.
Flag Day does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.