Review: The Company You Keep
PLOT: A public interest lawyer's world is turned upside down when a young reporter unearths his past as a former 1970s antiwar radical fugitive wanted for murder. After living for more than 30 years underground, he must now go on the run and track down old associates to escape the manhunt that ensues. REVIEW: THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is the movie you take your folks to see. Armed with a cast of reliable old vets and Oscar-winners, Robert Redfordís new film is a mellow throwback to the conspiracy dramas of the 70s that dealt with pious radicals and dogged reporters, although it lacks the required edge. Perhaps thatís because most of the cast canít claim to be impassioned kids anymore, but one canít help but think it would have been a cracking good yarn if made in the genreís heyday, when films ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN and THE PARALLAX VIEW fed off the generationís mistrust of all things ďthe manĒ and used that paranoia to tell gripping thrillers. THE COMPANY YOU KEEP shows what happens when those once-spry activists slow down a bit.
The film should not be faulted for not being on the same level of those greats from the 70s, however, nor should it make a difference how old the cast is. Unpretentious and undemanding, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP has the easy-to-swallow structure of a John Grisham novel: a rather basic thriller is spruced up with a bevy of intriguing side characters, and the central "mystery" is far from complex. Itís a Saturday afternoon whatís-on-TV? watch highlighted by a really terrific cast, but not much else.
Redford plays an upstate New York lawyer named Jim Grant who has managed to keep a secret the fact that, 30 years ago, he was a Weather Underground activist involved in the murder of an innocent man. An ex-cohort (Susan Sarandon) has been arrested after all this time, reopening interest in the long-forgotten case, and before long the spotlight shines on him. Grant then has to go on the run, making the questionable decision of leaving his young daughter behind with his brother (Chris Cooper) and seeking out a former flame (Julie Christie) to revisit the painful events of that fateful day. Perfect for the role, Redford is, because of our association with him as a fluffy-haired symbol of 70s cool, and even though heís certainly looking his age, heís still carrying around a ton of charisma with those golden-years good looks. He earns our sympathy just because he is Robert Redford.
In pursuit of Grant are the FBI and, more doggedly, a young reporter looking to break away from his dull routine and uncover a big story. Shia LaBeouf is Ben Shepard, convincingly a self-assertive pest with a knack for charming ladies and getting under the skins of older, wiser men, like his editor (Stanley Tucci). LaBeouf is never exactly a likable screen presence (in this writerís opinion), but here that brashness works in his favor, creating a character that puts his conscience aside in the name of seeking out ďthe truth.Ē. Itís actually just the kind of character Dustin Hoffman could have nailed back in the day, although I may be thinking that because Iíve still got ALL THE PRESIDENTíS MEN on the brain.
Redford has assembled a great team of supporting players for his film; aside from the aforementioned actors, the director has peppered THE COMPANY YOU KEEP with a catalogue of welcome faces like Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Sam Elliot and, just so weíre not overloaded with aging testosterone, Anna Kendrick and Brit Marling - although their roles are rather meager to be perfectly honest. Itís such a delight to have performers like these appear in the film almost as if on an assembly line, where no five minutes are without a beloved thespian popping up.
The unprovocative script, by Lem Dobbs, is helped by this fantastic ensemble; without such a prestigious cast, thereíd be little reason to commit yourself to the story, which takes an unhurried route to a fairly anti-climactic finale. Thereís no regret involved in experiencing THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, but thereís a distinct lack of buzz or impact when itís over; the very definition of a time-killer.