Flag Day

  • 11 Sep - 17 Sep, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

Sean Penn directs and stars as notorious criminal, swindler and counterfeiter John Vogel, wanted in the ‘90s by the FBI for forging thousands of $100 bills from a Minnesota copy shop. His story was told in the memoir Flim Flam Man: A True Family History, by his daughter, the author and journalist Jennifer Vogel. He was a compulsively exuberant and charming man that she adored, but he broke her heart by running out on the family, by spinning endless lies, and finally by being unable to accept the redemptive love that she desperately offered him, a slippery sociopath to the last.

Dylan Penn, daughter of Sean, plays Jennifer and Penn plays the toxic rogue Vogel himself. He’s a wheedling huckster who is always talking earnestly about the portfolio of business opportunities that he is curating. He also loves showing off to his family – and of course the kids are delighted at his crazy antics. But having encouraged the children to hero-worship him, John will disappear overnight when the people he owes money to become too oppressive.

The film shows that his entry-level crime was the one which planted the seed of emotional destruction: setting up supposedly workable businesses like burger joints and then torching them for the insurance. The fledgling grifter John Vogel learned that the thing to do with a difficult situation was burn it all down and get out of there; in fact, any situation is tolerable only because he knows it’s all going to go up in smoke.

Dylan Penn does well in the role of Jennifer, a young woman who inherited almost all of her dad’s destructive habits, but was saved by her interest in journalism. And of course, John himself is her story of a lifetime: the smirkingly unrepentant conman who believes his own lies, and – as his mother believes – has the sentimental entitlement of someone born on flag day. We see Penn capering around in red-white-and-blue for his birthday, and behaving as if it is everyone’s patriotic duty to give him a break.

There are some pretty broad emotional strokes here and maybe a fair bit of grandstanding. But it’s made with some style.