Flag Day is a mess of a film and even if it might mean well, it suffers like most biopics by stretching out too many years over time.
The film stretches some two decades of time. It starts out at the end before going back to the beginning. There’s a lot of screaming, drugs, and lying. There’s an old saying: you can choose your friends but can’t choose your family. I feel bad for both Jennifer Vogel (Dylan Penn) and Nick Vogel (Hopper Jack Penn). A trouble-maker for a father and an alcoholic for a mother. They have each other at the very least. For all of his flaws and there are many, Jennifer would rather spend time with John Vogel (Sean Penn) than her alcoholic mother, Patty (Katheryn Winnick). It’s a good thing for a while but then he goes out and robs a bank. You would think jail would make him a better person. Unfortunately, the status quo never really changes. Even in his final days, John spends it counterfeiting millions of dollars.
“The memoir itself was so rich in its candor in the inside of its prose, any six movies could’ve been made from it,” Sean Penn says of Jennifer Vogel’s memoir in the production notes.
Six movies. Think about this for a moment. There is so much material in Vogel’s memoir that you could make six different movies from it. Listen, I don’t like to pan films but maybe Penn and company would have been better off making multiple films rather than stretch out about two decades in under 2 hours. There’s a better movie or movies to be made here. How many times do I have to tell people that biopics should focus on a narrow set of time? If you want to tell a story over two decades, there are better ways of doing so. But this? This isn’t it, pal. Not by a longshot. It dragged and dragged and dragged. An hour into the film, I had to decide whether it was worth skipping a few minutes to go relieve myself. The answer is yes, it was worth it.
This film is a family affair behind and in front of the camera as Sean Penn directs the film, which also stars his children, Dylan Penn and Hopper Jack Penn. A lot of films are not able to get away with casting real-life parents and children. In this sense, you don’t have to worry about buying into the idea of whether or not someone is another person’s child. Because Sean is their father in real life, it also means that the chemistry is already there.
There’s a point in the film where Jennifer Vogel applies for the University of Minnesota’s graduate program in journalism. It’s one of the few good scenes in the entire film to be honest. This is the moment where Jennifer knows she wants a better life for herself. During an admissions interview, they ask her why she wants to be a journalist. She had a messy childhood because of her parents and seems to be on a rebound during this point in life. “I want to matter,” she says. This is something that I’m sure many journalists will resonate with because we want our voices to be heard or we want to lift up other people’s voices in getting the truth out there.
The film’s closing moments are certainly heartbreaking with Jennifer watching TV while her father is involved in a high-speed pursuit. Maybe it’s a melodramatic moment but I felt the tears starting to fall. No matter what one thinks of the film overall, you can’t help but hurt at the moment when a daughter watches her father kill himself on TV. Nobody ever wants to see something like that taking place. Not in a million years!
In as much as Flag Day is John’s story, it’s also Jennifer’s story. We see how she fights for a better opportunity for herself. Jennifer wants her father to live a better life. The scene in the admission’s office proves it. But when it comes to John, some people just cannot seem to change. No matter how much we hope and pray, they don’t make an effort.
I have to issue my usual disclaimer especially with Covid cases rising. This film is so bad that it’s definitely not worth risking your health. Wait for it to hit a streaming service, maybe. But spend the money on this mess of a film? No, I don’t recommend doing so.
Flag Day means well but it really suffers from stretching two decades in under 2 hours.
DIRECTOR: Sean Penn
SCREENWRITERS: Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth
CAST: Dylan Penn, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Norbert Leo Butz, Dale Dickey, Eddie Marsan, Bailey Noble, Hopper Jack Penn, Katheryn Winnick