Directed by: Robert Redford.
Written by: Lem Dobbs based on the novel by Neil Gordon.
Starring: Robert Redford (Jim Grant), Shia LaBeouf (Ben Shepard), Julie Christie (Mimi Lurie), Sam Elliott (Mac McLeod), Jackie Evancho (Isabel Grant), Brendan Gleeson (Henry Osborne), Terrence Howard (Cornelius), Richard Jenkins (Jed Lewis), Anna Kendrick (Diana), Brit Marling (Rebecca Osborne), Stanley Tucci (Ray Fuller), Nick Nolte (Donal), Chris Cooper (Daniel Sloan), Susan Sarandon (Sharon Solarz).
Robert Redford excels at directing the kind of mainstream, intelligent, political thrillers that used to be crowd-pleasers in the 1970s, but now are the type of movie that Hollywood has either forgotten how to make, or just aren’t interested in anymore. His last two films, Lions for Lambs and The Conspirator, are solid, intelligent, well-acted movies that got solid, not spectacular, reviews from critics and were pretty much ignored by audiences. His latest film, The Company You Keep, will most likely inspire the same reaction. It is not a great film – neither was Lions for Lambs or The Conspirator – but it is a solid, intelligent political thriller, classically structured and wonderfully well-acted. It somewhat saddens me that a film like this will most likely struggle to find an audience – it deserves one because it is wonderfully entertaining.
The movie stars Redford himself, as Jim Grant, an upstate New York lawyer who seems like just another liberal do-gooder – a holdover from the 1960s who while not an idealist, still wants to do the right thing. But when Sharon Solar (Susan Sarandon) is arrested after being on the FBI’s most wanted list for 30 years, Grant’s life comes unraveled. And that’s because Grant isn’t who he appears to be – or at least, wasn’t always what he appears like now. Solar was a member of the Weather Underground, the radical 1960s group that sprung out of the anti-war movement, and unlike most, had no trouble committing violence. They didn’t want to kill anyone, but did want to bring the war home. Solar was involved in a bank robbery gone wrong, where a security guard was murdered. Three other people were also involved – the triggerman died in prison years before, but the rest have been hiding out for three decades – and Jim Grant was one of those men. An enterprising young reporter – Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) starts digging around Grant, because he has a source that tells him that Grant turned down the opportunity to defend Solar. Why would he do that? Knowing it was just a matter of time before his secret was exposed – and being the single parent of an 11 year old girl – Grant goes on the run, leaving his daughter behind. But nothing Grant does makes any sense. He doesn’t seem to be trying to disappear – but rather try to prove something.
I’m sure there will be some who view The Company You Keep as another out of touch liberal diatribe from Hollywood. And to be fair, there are moments where The Company You Keep does come close to doing that – especially a very on the nose scene of an interview between LaBeouf and Sarandon, where Sarandon says “We made mistakes, but we were right” (this scene shouldn’t work, but Sarandon has the ability to pull it off). But while the movie certainly has more sympathy for the Weather Underground than some audiences will, I think The Company You Keep is really about how ideals clash with reality. To a certain extent, everyone in the movie is an idealist – no matter what side they fall on. But they all have their ideals tested.
The Company You Keep is an actor’s showcase – even the smallest roles are filled with talented actors, who bring more weight to their roles than they otherwise would have. Talented actors like Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, Anna Kendrick, Terrence Howard, Chris Cooper, Sam Elliot, Stanley Tucci, Brit Marling all show up and have just a scene or two. Out of all of the actors like this, Nick Nolte has the biggest impact. Nolte, who was once named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, now has a weathered face, and gruff voice that sounds like every word just might kill him, and while he only has a few brief scenes, his role leaves an impact. The three keys roles – by Redford, still better than most at using his movie star charm, LaBeouf, who is better here than I’ve seen him elsewhere, and Julie Christie, as the one person whose ideals may be the strongest, are also quite good. While the movie may lay things on a little thick at times, the talented cast keeps the movie afloat.
The Company You Keep was adapted (and simplified) from a novel by Neil Gordon. Both the film and book would have benefited from a little more complexity – making it harder to like Redford’s character, and forcing the audience to make a choice, and choose a side. Still, while The Company You Keep is not a great movie, it is a good one – a well-crafted, old school, intelligent political thriller. There are too few movies like this one being made – so even if the movie isn’t great, it certainly deserves some attention.