Raising Flagg

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It's so rare to find a film that offers juicy roles for veteran (i.e. old) actors that one goes in rooting for "Raising Flagg." Alan Arkin, who won a long-overdue Oscar for "Little Miss Sunshine," tops a cast that includes his former wife, Barbara Dana, as well as Austin Pendleton and Clifton James in vivid portrayals. The codgers are a pleasure to behold, though the movie lets them down.

"Flagg" begins with a legal battle between Arkin's Flagg Purdy and Pendleton's Gus Falk over water rights in a small town in Oregon that stirs up long-simmering resentments. Having violated the air of neighborliness in the town, Flagg is quickly ostracized by his fellow residents. Feeling slighted, he takes to his bed and declares that he is dying. He sends for all of his grown children, and they descend on the family homestead to reopen old wounds.

Most of the confrontations play out tepidly and predictably. There isn't much drama at stake in the children struggling to win their father's approval, partly because his original sins don't seem all that dastardly; he neglected to take one son fishing, for example. So the conflicts are easily overcome. Because much of the action takes place in the old man's bedroom, one wonders if "Flagg" might have been more effective as a play. It unfolds too statically under Neal Miller's direction.

Given the inherent limitations of the material, all of the actors work diligently and quite effectively. Arkin's son Matthew demonstrates some of his father's warmth in the role of an itinerant minister. Dana gives a multidimensional performance as Flagg's long-suffering but flinty wife, while Pendleton and James have fun with their roles as Flagg's onetime cronies. Glenne Headly, Lauren Holly, Richard Kind and Vana O'Brien contribute deft portrayals. Papa Arkin is a joy to watch. Even when he's lying prone on his "deathbed," he manages to find a self-conscious wheeze that is quite droll. He highlights the character's cantankerousness while also revealing the man's hidden intelligence and decency.

Erich Roland's striking cinematography would register even more strongly if the movie spent a little more time outdoors. The town is skillfully evoked by production designer David Sicotte. "Flagg" turns out to be a specialty item with a very limited audience, which is a shame given the superlative acting on display.

RAISING FLAGG
Cinema Libre Studio
A Rubicon Film Prods. and Oregon Creative production
Credits:
Director: Neal Miller
Screenwriters: Neal Miller, Nancy Miller, Dorothy Velasco
Based on the story by: John D. Weaver
Producers: Neal Miller, Nancy Miller
Director of photography: Erich Roland
Production designer: David Sicotte
Music: Alan Barcus, Les Hooper
Costume designer: Ron Leamon
Editors: Paul J. Coyne, Ken Morrisey
Cast:
Flagg Purdy: Alan Arkin
Ada Purdy: Barbara Dana
Ann Marie Purdy: Glenne Headly
Rachel Purdy: Lauren Holly
Gus Falk: Austin Pendleton
Bill Reed: Richard Kind
Travis Purdy: Daniel Quinn
Eldon Purdy: Matthew Arkin
Jenny Purdy: Stephanie Lemelin
Linette Purdy: Dawn Maxey
Aunt Edith: Vana O'Brien
Running time -- 102 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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