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July 11, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

The last time Sean Penn took a film that he directed to Cannes, he nearly had the red carpet pulled out from under him. Critics unanimously savaged his 2016 film The Last Face, with some even booing during the press screening. Benjamin Lee, the critic for Britain’s Guardian, for example, called it a “staggering misfire.” The film also bombed at the box office, earning just $1.2 million on the domestic and global markets combined. So it must have been something of an act of courage for Penn to return to Cannes this week, with his latest film, Flag Day. It’s a sort of R-rated family film. (He co-stars in it with his daughter Dylan, and his son, Hopper Jack, has a small role.) This time the reception is mixed, although none of the reviews are as brutal as those for the losing Face. “It’s not catastrophic, far from it, but Sean Penn has done much better in the past,” wrote Yannick Vely in the French weekly, Paris Match. And David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter concluded: “Flag Day is not a complete misfire, and if a no-name director had made it, the movie would probably get a pass.” Several critics did give it a pass — and more. This is Penn’s sixth film as a director and his first as a director/star, and Owen Gleiberman, the critic for Variety, called it “one of his best.” And Pete Hammond in Deadline commented that while the movie represents “a solid and worthwhile effort” for Penn, “first and foremost, it will be remembered as a dazzling showcase for the acting talents of his daughter, Dylan Penn.” But dad also turns in a strong performance, Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian observed. “His seductive address to the camera is almost unrivaled. Moreover, as a director, he knows how to bring the horsepower. And so it proves in this very watchable and well-made family drama.” At a news conference, Penn revealed that he originally wanted Matt Damon to play the lead role and sent him the script. “And he called me, not to say that he couldn’t do it … but to say that I was a stupid schmuck not to do it myself and miss the opportunity to act with my daughter in this thing.”