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The Company You Keep

2012 | 125 min | R | 2.39:1

The Company You Keep


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Theatrical release date

 05 April, 2013
 07 June, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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The Company You Keep Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, April 18, 2013

Robert Redford is no fool. The screen icon and celebrated director knows full well that audiences wouldn’t be very patient with his latest film, “The Company You Keep,” without the security and color of a large cast made up of famous faces. It’s a smart move, providing a sense of stability with this labyrinthine tale of aging radicals, weighty secrets, and dubious journalism, with the talent helping to ease the often scattered feel of the storytelling -- an effort that faces a difficult job of establishing numerous names and places. Never underestimate these modest flashes of star power, as the ensemble manufactures the suspense and reflection necessary to make “The Company You Keep” stick as a stirring drama and as a statement of generational idealism greeting the golden years.

Sharon (Susan Sarandon) is a devoted mother and wife who’s been arrested for the 40-year-old murder of a bank guard, committed during her time with the militant group Weather Underground. The capture, long prized by the F.B.I., sends a shockwave throughout her fellow radicals in hiding, including lawyer Jim (Robert Redford), a widowed father to young Isabel (Jackie Evancho). When Albany Sun Times journalist Ben (Shia LeBeouf) begins to pick at the case, he discovers a network of connections and false identities that expose a nest of respectable citizens who’ve moved on with their lives. Forced into hiding, leaving Isabel with his exasperated brother Daniel (Chris Cooper), Jim heads to Michigan, hoping to elude manhunt efforts from Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard), while meeting with former associates including Donal (Nick Nolte), Jed (Richard Schiff), and Henry (Brendan Gleeson). Searching for answers from his elusive ex-lover, Mimi (Julie Christie), Jim contemplates his past and his peers, while Ben doggedly researches the history of the group, using intimidation to shape the story he wants to tell.

Based on the 2003 book by Neil Gordon (seemingly inspired by the 1999 arrest of Symbionese Liberation Army member Sara Jane Olson) and scripted by Lem Dobbs, “The Company You Keep” is a maze of faces and places, though it’s not as forcefully impenetrable a production as other filmmakers might enjoy creating. In Redford’s care, the picture is patient as it sifts through false identities, foggy histories, and cross-country travel, cooking up a web of personalities feeling the heat of sin once again after years of dormancy, building honest lives with fraudulent tools. It’s not difficult to follow, but it requires attention and some awareness of Weather Underground history, where the radical left organization turned to domestic terrorism to combat and eventually overthrow the government. Redford and Dobbs aren’t interested in a history lesson, but they inspect the smoldering embers of idealism, with some characters still justifying murder in response to government atrocities, while others have moved away from their youthful aggression, assuming leadership and educational roles with hopes that their Weather Underground ties will never be discovered.

The journalism angle to the story is perhaps its most interesting and incendiary element, watching as the script transforms Ben into a villain of sorts (a far cry from the heroism of Redford’s turn in “All The President’s Men”), using his interrogation skills to crack open daylight, exposing secrets and connections. He’s ruthless, prone to lying and assorted manipulations to explore a story, bravely imagined as a cowardly manipulator out to “get” his subject in this new age of media saturation. Dobbs pulls a few punches, summoning a trivial romantic interest in Rebecca (Brit Marling), Henry’s daughter and a woman eventually pulled into the investigation. Thankfully, it’s short-lived, as any attempt to warm up such a proudly despicable character registers as contrivance, softening the feature when it’s best sharpening an edge.

The cast is uniformly terrific, deployed splendidly by Redford to keep the acting exciting as reliable talent is introduced, also including Stanley Tucci (as Ben’s stressed editor), Stephen Root (as a farmer and former Weather Underground member), Sam Elliot (as Mimi’s current beau), and Anna Kendrick (as an F.B.I. agent once romantically involved with Ben).

Characterizations gradually diminish as the movie progresses, never quite nailing borderline delusional people like Mimi for the crimes they’ve openly committed, while a general sentimental glaze is poured over the radicalism of the 1970s, finding Jim commending Jed for his continued teachings on the subject. However, the feature does manage to isolate the eventual shift of responsibility, as young rebels grow into old parents and caretakers, abandoning their global passions to protect their domestic endeavors. “The Company You Keep” is quite compelling in this arena of thought, exposing vulnerabilities as they crash into past misdeeds, returning complication to lives spent ironing out the wrinkles. Even if it isn’t as rounded a portrait as hoped for, the picture is dramatically sound, with pockets of tension and wonderful acting to keep it convincing for most of the journey.

Starring: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, Anna Kendrick, Julie Christie, Sam Elliott
Director: Robert Redford

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