Robert Redford Focuses on ‘The Company You Keep’

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Average: 4 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – The golden age of the great Robert Redford occurred in the 1970s, when he participated in making passionate political statements with “All the President’s Men,” “The Candidate” and “Three Days of the Condor.” Redford stars in and directs a throwback to those times, the equally passionate yet softer-in-narrative “The Company You Keep.”

It’s a reminder of 1960s radicalism, the evolution of life and how priorities can muddy up youthful indiscretions. It unfortunately creates a somewhat melodramatic and difficult to believe chase thriller along the way, but there is also that passion, the underlying need by communicators like Redford to make films that matter, about subjects that should give pause in the current U.S. political landscape. This film is worth seeing, if only to honor and remember the boomer generation that stopped an unjust war, and then was destined like all of us to see their advocacy become lost in the mists of that thing called real life.

Jim Grant (Redford) is a respected lawyer and widower with a young daughter in Albany, New York. His world is shattered when an ex-member of the radical Weather Underground movement of the 1960s, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), is arrested by the FBI and charged with the murder of a bank guard during a group political robbery in the early 1970s. Grant was part of that movement when he was named Nick Sloan, and he also has been on the run since those days. The FBI is on the hunt, led by Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) and his young protege Diana (Anna Kendrick).

Robert Redford
Man on the Run: 1960s Radical Nick Sloan (Robert Redford) Proves Elusive in ‘The Company You Keep’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

When Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), a young Albany newspaper reporter, starts sniffing on the trail, Nick Sloan realizes he needs to disappear again. He reacts methodically, using another identity to get back on the run, and drops his daughter off with his brother Daniel (Chris Cooper). Using a network that includes his old friend Donal (Nick Nolte), Sloan seeks another member of the Underground, Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), who may have the truth that will set free the fugitive radicals.

This is a drumbeat pulse-pounder, spiced with story deceptions and surprise casting. Redford seeks to create the same numbing paranoia as those great 1970s political films, even using the antiquated dogged newspaper reporter to serve as the one who unravels it all. The film is based on a novel by Neil Gordon, and it just might be one of those hard to translate stories, from book to movie. The screenplay, by Lem Dobbs, gets convoluted before everything becomes wrapped up neatly, and just doesn’t have the same gravitas as those golden age Redford polit-thrillers.

But this film does have an ardent delivery by director and star Redford, along with his all-star cast. LaBeouf delivers his two-years-out-of-J-school reporter with a studied earnestness, even though the character gets lost in the vague mishmash. His editor Ray (Stanley Tucci) is such a tough-but-benign deadline thrasher, that it might have made a good movie with just those two. Miscast is the still-beautiful Julie Christie as the radical Mimi, the character needed a bit more fire. And current indie favorite Brit Marling gets a thankless role virtually in the last act, a throw-in that only complicates matters further.

The exploration of the former counter-culture in winter is the meat of the film. Sarandon as Sharon makes a sappy speech about changing priorities, but the theme of “things change” is established, and it becomes intriguing to watch the Redford character walk between the past and the present through his current exile. There is almost a wish for the film to be more political than moral, but what does a sixty-something individual have but their morality, which developed long after Woodstock? Luckily the reliable Richard Jenkins is thrown in – again near the end – as an obvious “Bill Ayers” type character (Ayers is a Weather Underground member turned university professor, who accused of being a terrorist and “palling around” with then candidate Barack Obama in 2008), to add some desperation to the feel-good atmosphere.

Robert Redford
The Fourth Estate: Shia LaBeouf is Newspaper Reporter Ben Shepard ‘The Company You Keep’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

The film is lacking whenever the feel-good becomes evident, especially in the end, and that emotion also softens and convolutes the journey. There is a desire to care about the aging baby boomers, and forgive them for their sins, but then it ends up that they’re all set up in modern technology havens, legal practices, upper-middle class motherhood and the like. They eschewed the American Dream, only to achieve it rather nicely. Even Mimi the Radical has a profitable marijuana running trade, with sleek sail boats and designer clothes. Sigh.

But give credit to the man Robert Redford for keeping the flame burning, in an interpretation that allows for some enjoyable nostalgia for real newspapering, authority paranoia and a generation lost in space, with no time left to start again.

“The Company You Keep” continues its limited release on April 12th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Robert Redford, Shia LeBeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins and Brit Marling. Written by Lem Dobbs. Directed by Robert Redford. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2013 Patrick McDonald,

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