Cast & Credits:
John Schneider (The Dukes of Hazzard, Smallville, Nip/Tuck, 90210) as Daniel
William Devane (Knot’s Landing, the West Wing, Space Cowboys, 24) as Jake
Gigi Erneta as Judith
Andrew Sensenig as Ben
Director: Rodney Ray
R-Squared Productions presents Flag of My Father, a Rodney Ray story written by Monica Grimm, Leslie Lamb and Rodney Ray. Director of Photography: Neal Bryant. The film features music composed by Daryl Wolgemuth and songs performed by Mason Granade.
The army vehicles move quietly on the desert road. As day moves into evening, the tiny band of soldiers and nurse traveling with a wounded comrade chat about home, their families or their pets. The convoy has to make a stop to do a quick, two-minute repair on one of the trucks, a fairly routine occurrence. Out of the darkness flies an enemy sniper’s bullet, beginning a night ambush on the little convoy.
So begins Flag of My Father. The film cleverly entwines a consistent theme of respect and appreciation for the U. S. flag by those who served, while mirroring the detached, uninterested disregard of its patriotic meaning by those who did not. The theme is framed within dysfunctional familial relationships that created long-standing problems among the siblings.
Devane provides a clear and realistic image of Jake, the Vietnam Marine veteran who never talked about his war stories. He confessed to his daughter that he had even felt ashamed of his service and guessed it was because of the poor reception the troops received when they returned home. His daughter, Judith, is an army Iraq veteran and the nurse in the opening scene. Jake’s four sons do not know anything of their father’s war history, and feel chagrined when he walks past them during his birthday celebration to eagerly greet the pals who survived Da Nang with him. When his sons complain that he had never shared his war experiences with them, he says he didn’t know they were interested and promises to answer their questions. Unfortunately, Jake dies before he can keep his promise to his sons.
Judith suffers her own effects of combat, keeping her experiences close to her chest but often waking with nightmares. She was close to her father and is jealously resented by her brothers because of it. When Ben, the eldest son, is presented with his father’s flag at the funeral, he is determined to keep it as his only tie to his father, even though Judith has asked for it. The remaining three sons do not see why the flag is such a big deal.
John Schneider is great in the role of the troubled, jealous brother Daniel. His expressions and well-timed gestures are strong factors in displaying all the nuances of Daniel’s character. Schneider’s face is often a mix of contempt and the vulnerable emotions behind it, turning a potentially dislikeable man into someone who just seems lost and hurting.
Ben is played by Andrew Sensenig who expertly takes a slightly self-pitying, neglected eldest son and offers a more complicated set of emotions. The result is a likeable man, temporarily misguided, whose basic integrity quickly steers him back onto a path of reconciliation and understanding.
Beyond the fine portrayals of Jake, Daniel and Ben, the remaining characters are not always entirely convincing. It is important to note though, that the post-traumatic stress disorder in Gigi Erneta’s Judith is utterly believable. The flashbacks, always a tricky element to pull off, are flawlessly and smoothly transitioned in the film and carry a tremendous impact. Then there is the surprising discovery related to military service in an old cardboard box found after Jake’s death, for which the sequence of events was brilliantly written. I will not spoil the movie but will state this was one of my favorite parts.
I would have liked more of an explanation of the mysterious letter found after Jake’s death, as its influence on Daniel is not nearly explored enough. The references to a strong religious faith seem more as a sidebar at times than a connecting thread throughout the story. The ending is wrapped up just a little too neatly to seem real.
However, these perceived flaws in Flag of My Father are minor and do not distract from the fact that Rodney Ray’s idea of a good story is spot on. Most combat veterans do not want to talk about their experiences, especially our Vietnam veterans who were made to suffer an undeserved shame, and Ray’s Flag of My Father gets that. Most importantly, Ray displays a keen insight into understanding how those who served view the flag — not just a symbol of our nation, but of the men and women who died while serving, and whose caskets are covered by the red, white and blue.
Flag of My Father is superbly directed and speaks of a highly gifted, creative talent in Ray. Ray’s use of Neal Bryant as Director of Photography, Daryl Wolgemuth for the music composition and Mason Granade for performing the songs, clearly indicates that Ray can spot topnotch talent, too. Bryant is expert at capturing a scene. Daryl Wolgemuth and Mason Granade use their multi-talented musical skills to effectively and beautifully set the mood of each scene in which it is used. The songs flow from eerie to cautious to suspenseful, or poignantly thoughtful. Suffice it for me to say that any future film that has the touch of a Rodney Ray, Neal Bryant, Daryl Wolgemuth, or a Mason Granade to it, is going to get my immediate attention. These artists are very, very good at what they do.
Flag of My Father is a thoughtful acknowledgment and tribute to our country’s flag. Maybe even more so, it a gift from the heart to those who are currently in the military, know someone in the military, or have served in the military. Which is just about everybody.
To learn more about R-Squared Productions and Flag of My Father, visit the company’s website at http://www.r2films.net. You can also join the Facebook group “R-Squared Productions” or follow “R2Films”on Twitter.
However you choose, checking out Flag of My Father and/or following the future work of Ray and his fellow artists is a very smart move to make.