THE COMPANY YOU KEEP Review

Robert Redford has always slightly eluded me. I haven't seen much of his work except for a few major players like Butch Cassidy and The Sting, as well as several of his directorial efforts, but I've never felt particularly close to the guy despite the kind of status he has commanded in Hollywood for quite some time. That may sound odd or even a little delusional, but in terms of growing to feel as if you know an actor by the kinds of roles they play, or figuring out what they might be like in real life, and what conversation topics might come up if you had the chance to speak with them make viewers feel as if we could actually get to know these people. This usually happens with what turn out to be our favorite actors or at least people who are considered movie stars, and it usually means they have the charisma and the charm to connect with a mass audience on different levels thus the reason they are granted that precious title of "movie star". And though Redford has clearly been knighted with that honor and been in the high ranks of movie-making for a long time I've never quite understood the fascination. He's clearly a talented and attractive figure and he seems to have a real love for making movies and creating pieces of art that mean something. While The Company You Keep may not be the best example of that kind of high art what it does do is serve a purpose as a fairly satisfying exercise in the investigative drama that features an all star cast who will have you playing a guessing game of who might pop up next. It is easy to see how this might be passed on as tired and conventional but the story is intriguing enough and the chase to the end to find a resolution and sort out the mess of politics these people have gotten themselves into had me from the beginning and I was willing to run with it, whatever it was they asked me to do and wherever it was they asked me to go.

Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) has to make some tough decisions in The Company You Keep.
The story revolves around young newspaper reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) and his relentless spirit to dig up a scoop from a story his news source missed out on when it landed right in there back yard. That story was the arrest of a Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) who, thirty years prior, was part of a revolutionary militant group known as the Weather Underground. This group had a goal of creating a clandestine revolutionary party for the overthrow of the U.S. government. Their actions to do so resulted in bombing attacks targeted at government buildings and several banks. In one of these attacks on the bank of Michigan a security guard was killed and three of the members of this activist group became fugitives wanted for murder. They eluded arrest for thirty years, until the arrest of Mrs. Solarz. This sets in motion a series of events that lead Shepard to put a few things together and outs a local lawyer, Jim Grant (Redford) who is then forced to go on the run as he is now a wanted man by the FBI led by a fierce yet rather typical Terrence Howard. As Grant goes on the run we are led to believe the film might become a kind of chase film, but that never builds right and never gets the momentum going that it needs for the audience to really buy into that side of the story. Instead, it is surprisingly the side that deals with LaBeouf's character digging further into the case and digging up the history of the relationships between the players of this organization, where they are now and if the third suspected member in the security guard murder, Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), is still alive and how she might play into all of this. While Redford's character hops from city to city and meets up with past members of the group that turns the movie into "what star will turn up next" as these roles are filled by the likes of Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, and Sam Elliot. While it is nice to see such a credible ensemble cast together it doesn't necessarily mean the story they are executing is thrilling. No, the investigative thriller aspect is what moves the story and the film forward.

What the film is trying to say though or what point it is trying to make never becomes all that clear. The Weather Underground was fighting to oppose the American government while Redford's character represents the passing of time and what the lending of perspective places on the truly important things in life. There is an interesting moment early in the film where LaBeouf and Redford's character have a conversation about what is fair and balanced and LaBeouf's Shepard states that he really doesn't care for either side and that the outcome makes little difference to him. In that regard we kind of feel the same way towards the film. We don't necessarily catch on to what the whole dilemma is here because there is a certain amount of necessary knowledge one would need to have going into the film to really get a good grasp on the dynamics of why these two opposing forces are finally coming to a head. Without that, as I was, I became somewhat entangled in the politics of it all and instead of trying to look at the overall themes of the film I wanted to know more of the details. This may not lend well to the initial viewing experience as getting caught up on certain aspects won't necessarily let you go and enjoy the remainder of the film, but while I was unclear on certain things until having the chance to read up on them afterwards I never felt that I was unable to get into the movie. Whether that be due to the fact that it fits into a genre structure so well and played, however inertly, to the those strengths I couldn't say. I am sure the film might be more enjoyable, more satisfying even upon second viewing as its two hour run time goes by at a brisk pace and at least succeeds in painting a picture of a world not as clean and simple the government would like us to believe, but to be sheltered, even if that is to feel a false security, is necessary if you want to protect what means most to you. I still don't know if that is the idea Redford and his screenwriters were trying to portray, but besides the obvious guilty by association lesson, it all seems to come back to one word: truth.

Jim Grant (Robert Redford) is forced to go on the run after his true identity is revealed.
Whether that is the ultimate truth or the truth as made by perspective, what is the difference? If it is the truth to one person it is all they have and they will stand by it because there is nothing else to cling to and we all need something to hold onto in a world and country so diverse with ideals, beliefs, and laws. While there could likely be whole essays written on the points that The Company You Keep touches on, the real question a film critique needs to answer in order to start a discussion is what made the movie good or bad? Was it enjoyable or a drag? The thing about a film like this is that it lands so much in the middle it isn't hard to recommend, but it is difficult to say one should rush out and see it. It feels like a film with something to say and it is well crafted and well acted so there is no reason to pass up on it. Though I will admit I was distracted by the fact Redford is nearing eighty and he has an eleven year-old daughter here and we're supposed to believe he was in college in the 70's, yet the guy still handles himself well for his age. The same could be said for both Nolte, Jenkins, and Christie as they are each in their late-60's to early 70's, but that would be to knit pick and that isn't necessary when you have such a high class of actors filling out what are essentially bit parts here. I would have loved to see more from Stanley Tucci who serves as the editor of the Albany Sun Times where LaBeouf works as well as from Anna Kendrick, Brendan Gleeson, and Brit Marling. It is ridiculous that it's taken me so long to even mention such names in a review, but Redford has cast them in such small roles that it is easy to forget who all lands where. Gleeson especially has the opportunity to play up a few conversation scenes with LaBeouf's character and Brit Marling's character is central to the plot and the relationship of other characters but she herself doesn't have much to do and Kendrick even less. LaBeouf does solid work here as a reporter with bite that is able to balance his cocky narcissism with an earnestness and willingness to listen and learn. This is an enjoyable film, a thrilling one at times and I dug it and I think most viewers would, but you can do that any day or any time of the week; it isn't crucial you invite these characters over immediately, but keeping their company at some point in the future isn't a bad idea.