Title: The Company You Keep
Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Robert Redford
Screenwriter: Lem Dobbs, from Neil Gordon’s novel
Cast: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Sam Elliott
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 3/6/13
Opens: April 5, 2013
At one point early in the film, eleven-year-old Isabel (Jacqueline Evancho) says to her dad, Jim Grant (Robert Redford), “You look weird!” I should look so weird at 76. Though no longer appearing the swashbuckler of his “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Redford still has looks to add to his charisma, putting him in the company of such handsome septuagenarians as Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda. What’s more he inhabits his latest role with authenticity in a movie that acts as political thriller but more importantly as a family drama of a man who stands to lose everything—his law practice and especially his daughter if he is arrested by the FBI. Though “political thriller” puts one in the mind of the Jason Bourne series, “The Company You Keep” is far less melodramatic, at times overly talky, but providing insight into both what it was like to be in a radical organization in the sixties and early seventies and what happens when the once dashing people, out to change the world, have settled into prosaic professions.
“The Company You Keep” will draw its audience largely from aging hippies but also from older conservatives who recall the days of anti-Vietnamese wars protests with dismay. Hopefully the film will entice the younger crowd as well, people who have heard only vaguely about the time that author Charles A. Reich called The Greening of America. There are no folk songs even in the dollops of archival films—no Pete Seeger or the Weavers or the mystical music of Ravi Shankar (which would have added to the story’s color), since scripter Lem Dobbs, adapting Neil Gordon’s novel of the same name (available for $8.51 at Amazon.com) is more interested in exhibiting the tensions between family loyalties and political idealism.
The principal characters are Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), a young, eager reporter with an Albany, New York newspaper run by Ray Fuller (Stanley Tucci), and Jim Grant (Robert Redford), the former born after the time the country gave up its greenish tones for the more realistic activities of making a living. The opening scene shows promise of physical action during the arrest of Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), a fugitive on the run for the years following a bank robbery by the radical Weather Underground which resulted in the murder of the guard. Aside from a chase toward the conclusion of the story, most of the action is the give-and-take between Ben Shepard and a host of characters with some knowledge or involvement in that robbery.
After Shepard’s research results in a blockbuster story that Jim Grant, a lawyer who still fights the good fight by taking many pro bono cases, was in reality a member of the Weather Underground now with a false identity. Grant must transfer his daughter Isabel (17 years old in the book, 11 years old here) to the custody of his brother, Daniel Sloan (Chris Cooper) and go on the run. During those tension-filled days and weeks he meets with some of the former revolutionaries including Jed Lewis (Richard Jenkins), a professor at the University of Michigan who still bears the soul of a firebrand as he lectures on Marx and assigns Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth”; with Donal Fitzgerald (Nick Nolte), now running a lumber business who gives him a pad to crash; and especially Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie) , now living with MacMcleod (Sam Elliott), who is just one of the six lovers that have come and gone. Meanwhile FBI Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) barks orders to his men as they intercept a cell phone call and give chase to one of the last of the people wanted for murder.
Redford provides the multi-tasking role of both principal performer and director, with Lem Dobbs turning in an intelligent, literate screenplay but one which could drive away those who think that Bruce Willis is the alpha and omega of thrillers. Dobbs’s “The Limey,” which he penned in 1999, deals with Steven Soderbergh’s 1999 film “The Limey,” about a dangerous Brit who go to L.A. to find the man responsible for his daughter’s death. For better or worse, “The Company You Keep” lacks the tension created by Soderbergh but provides an intelligent look at what happens to a person whose family life is disrupted, at first by having to adopt out his older daughter Rebecca (Brit Marling) to a police chief (Brendan Gleeson) and is now faced with spending the rest of his life in jail and losing his eleven-year-old. Shia LaBeouf is an excellent casting choice, a journalist who is not a sympathetic character but whose ambition requires him to discover truth regardless of how such information would break families asunder.
Rated R. 125 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B