Like Redford, The Company You Keep Harkens to an Earlier Era
- Thursday, April 25, 2013
DVD Release Date: August 13, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: April 5, 2013 limited; expands April 26
Rating: R (for strong language)
Run Time: 125 min
Director: Robert Redford
Cast: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte, Jackie Evancho
On the heels of the tragic Boston Marathon bombing, it’d seem you couldn’t find a more relevant film than one about domestic terrorism. But here’s the rub: it depends on how that film deals with its subject as to whether the timing is poor or perfect. With The Company You Keep, it’s a little bit of both.
Before wading into those muddy waters, it should be said upfront that this is a well-done, commendably muted throwback to 1970s political thrillers. It boasts a great cast, has a solid script, and is tautly directed by Robert Redford (Lions for Lambs), who also stars. Think of it as the cinematic equivalent of a tribute band, playing the hits from the last great era of American movies and acquitting itself rather well by comparison.
But for a movie with ambitions of being thought-provoking, its biases lay a bit too obviously with the old liberal militants. The Company You Keep is an effective and entertaining movie but not one that's going to be changing anyone's views – and in this current climate, may even rub some people the wrong way despite its conscious efforts toward topical sensitivity.
Wrestling with such a volatile issue as domestic terrorism eventually requires a look at motive, and that’s what Redford does in this tale about fictionalized former members of the very real Vietnam-era extremist group The Weather Underground. That notorious band of anti-war protestors went beyond traditional tactics and actually bombed government buildings – including the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon – along with some banks. Their view was that if the U.S. was going to do that to Southeast Asia, then someone should do it back to them.
Fast-forward to present day and several of those former Weathermen (and women) remain on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. They have evaded capture for nearly forty years by assuming new identities and blending into new locales. After one member is tracked and captured in New York, Ben Shepherd (Shia LaBeouf, Lawless) – a resourceful and opportunistic young newspaper reporter from Albany – tracks down clues to another: Jim Grant (Redford), a single-father practicing law (much of it pro bono, i.e. still an idealist). As Shepherd follows and publishes his leads, it forces Grant to go on the run in a possible attempt to clear his name while the FBI pursues.
There’s a classic cloak-and-dagger aspect to all of this, reminiscent of some of Redford’s most iconic movies. Even if it’s been awhile since he’s worked in this genre, it’s clearly familiar territory; Redford eases back into it – both in front and behind the camera – like a hand to a well-worn glove. He keeps the complex plot dynamics at the fore along with each character’s own internal conflicts, and Lem Dobbs's (Haywire) script structures it all in a way that builds tension by holding back information before well-timed reveals (save one minor twist you see coming about a half-hour before its confirmed; a minor quibble).
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