Movies: "The Company You Keep" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "The Company You Keep"
Movies: "The Company You Keep"

As our nation tries to understand a new episode of domestic terrorism, here’s a movie that looks back at another time of terror attacks, by the Weather Underground during the Vietnam War era of the 1970s.

Although it begins with TV clips of the upheaval that accompanied that unpopular war, “The Company You Keep” is set in the present.  It begins when one of the participants (Susan Sarandon) in a Weather Underground bank heist that left a guard dead decides to turn herself in thirty years after the fact.


Thanks to the work of  Ben Shepard (Shia LaBoeuf), an energetic but narcissistic young reporter for an Albany, NY newspaper, Sarandon’s character is quickly linked to some other Albany locals, including longtime pro-bono lawyer Jim Grant (Robert Redford, who also directed the movie), a widower raising an 11-year old daughter.  


Turns out Grant’s real name is Nick Sloan, and he too was a Weatherman back in the day.  As the FBI starts closing in on him, Nick manages to stash his daughter with his brother (Chris Cooper) and takes off, trying to track down his former comrades in an effort to find the woman who might be able to clear him:  Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), still radical after all these years.


If you’ve read this far, you’ve already made note of the major Hollywood players involved in this fairly diminutive movie.  But wait, there's more.  Hello, Nick Nolte, growling out a small part along with veteran Stanley Tucci, the great Richard Jenkins, beefy Brendan Gleeson, drawlin’ Sam Elliot, handsome Terrence Howard as a dogged FBI agent and Maine’s own Anna Kendrick as yet another fed.  Upcoming star Brit Marling (“Arbitrage”) is also along for the ride as a college student whose own past will play a (predictable) part in the plot.


A stellar cast, a largely-untapped moment of recent American violence and an FBI manhunt.  All juicy ingredients.  So why isn’t this movie better than it is?


The fault, I fear, lies with director Robert Redford, that Mt. Rushmore-worthy movie idol who deserves praise for his longevity and his boosting of indie films with Sundance.  His direction here seems sluggish.  LaBoeuf’s eager reporter may be bursting with egotistical energy, but Redford’s own character -- after all, he’s the guy on the run -- appears to travel in slow motion, as do most of his former radical cohorts.  Maybe they’ve just run out of juice.  Even Terrence Howard’s fed seems to be working in lo-fi.  


This is not to denigrate the individual performances here.  Almost everyone involved is a longtime pro, and they inhabit their characters faithfully.


“The Company You Keep” was scripted by Lem Dobbs and Neil Gordon, and is based on Gordon’s novel of the same name.  (It’s not his best book;  for that, I recommend “The Sacrifice of Isaac.”)  It was shot by the talented Brazilian Adriano Goldman (“Jane Eyre”), and the sensitive score is by Cliff Martinez (“Drive,” “Pump Up the Volume”).


This is basically a thriller for older folks, who will recognize most of the characters on screen.  There are no car chases, explosions or ultra-violence -- just a series of drawn-out pit stops as Redford interacts with his great cast mates.  


I have no idea why it’s rated R, except for the possible audience age factor.  


I give it a B.


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