Robert Redford is in good 'Company' with this cast
05:00 AM, Apr 04, 2013
“It doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” Bob Dylan once sang.
Director Robert Redford assesses the temperature of contemporary news-gathering and finds it subpar, as he provides thought-provoking perspective on anti-war militants of the late ’60s and early 70s.
The Company You Keep (* * * out of four; rated R; opening Friday nationwide) is a low-key thriller that takes on big ideas, serious issues and complex ethical decisions. Though it makes a few missteps, it’s marked by top-notch performances by a terrific ensemble cast, headed by Redford.
The tale is a fictional account of the actions of a group of radical protesters, part of the Weather Underground, the revolutionary arm of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which plotted the bombings of government buildings and banks through the mid-1970s.
Almost four decades after their days of violent protest, members are leading quiet, productive lives. After a crisis of conscience, activist-turned-Vermont housewife Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) turns herself in for a bank robbery she participated in over three decades earlier, in which a security guard was killed. A top FBI agent (Terrence Howard) is hellbent on tracking down other conspirators.
Just as hellbent on breaking a good story is Ben Shepard, (Shia LaBeouf), a reporter at a small Albany newspaper.
With the help of an old girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) Shepard gets a jailhouse interview with Solarz. Her explanation of student unrest resulting in political extremism is one of the film’s best- written scenes.
Trying to prove himself to a cynical editor (Stanley Tucci), Shepard digs into the story. His research unearths the identity of another radical fugitive, Jim Grant (Redford), who is now a public interest lawyer living under an assumed identity. When he learns he is wanted in connection with the robbery, Grant deposits his 11-year-old daughter Isabel (Jackie Evancho) with his brother (Chris Cooper) and bolts.
But he doesn’t go into hiding or leave the country. Instead, he embarks on a cross-country trip to track down the one person who can clear his name, cohort and former lover Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie). Still involved in radical causes, Lurie is tough to find. Grant is aided by former comrades (Nick Nolte and Richard Jenkins). All are haunted by their radical days, though their emotions manifest variously as remorse, resentment or renewed commitment.
Determined to establish his reporter cred, Shepard digs into Grant’s past, and the path leads to former Michigan police chief Henry Osborne (Brendan Gleeson). He also strikes up a friendship with Osborne’s daughter Rebecca (Brit Marling).
Shepard comes to understand political fervor. Grant and Lurie make peace with their turbulent past. Redford and Christie’s chemistry is evident, and it’s wonderful to see such talented veterans now septuagenarians on screen together.
The story unfolds at a leisurely pace. But after setting up a believable philosophical battle, the resolution comes a little too easily and neatly. Also, scenes between Redford’s character and his tween daughter (the product of a late-in-life marriage) come off awkwardly.
Still, it’s great to see Redford back in form for his ninth directorial effort, a compelling film that dwells in gray areas, unearthing tightly guarded secrets and examining decisions that have life-long repercussions.