‘The Company You Keep’ finds Robert Redford running back to the 1960s

Robert Redford in 'The Company You Keep' — Photo courtesy of Doane Gregory / Sony Pictures Classics
Robert Redford in ‘The Company You Keep’ — Photo courtesy of Doane Gregory / Sony Pictures Classics

Robert Redford’s new thriller, The Company You Keep, is an invigorating tale of politics on the run.

Redford, who directed the picture, stars as Jim Grant, an upstate New York lawyer with a checkered past. Grant recently lost his wife and cares for his young daughter, a person who seems to mean more to him than anyone else in life. The movie follows Grant and how his past finally catches up with him. Back in the 1960s, when the great social movements were grabbing the population’s attention, Grant had ties to the radical Weather Underground group. The organization protested many of the government’s actions, and in the movie these protests turned violent and deadly. Grant apparently escaped the clutches of the authorities in the 1960s, changed his name and attempted to live a simple life.

The impetus for the reopening of Grant’s case is the arrest of Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), a Weather Underground activist who was also found living a peaceful familial life. Grant hears of the arrest and realizes it’s time to act. He leaves his daughter in the care of his brother (Chris Cooper) and heads onto the hidden corridors of America to find a solution to his mounting problem.

The movie is a tense political thriller where many of the arguments of the 1960s resurface; however, it’s also a skillful action movie reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive. Watching Grant stay one step ahead of the FBI Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) makes for some exciting scenes. In some ways, The Company You Keep is better at the action than the politics. The script, penned by Lem Dobbs and based on Neil Gordon’s book, has trouble weaving in the substance behind the protests and what Grant actually stands for in the 21st century. A finer balance between Grant-on-the-run and Grant-the-activist would have been appreciated.

The other difficulty with the movie is the character of Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), a journalist in the Albany area who first discovers Grant’s connection to the Weather Underground. It’s nice to see a small-town reporter grab the big story, but everything else surrounding this character and his chase across America feels extraneous and far-fetched. It’s difficult to believe a solitary journalist with very little backing or education in the subject matter would be able to beat the best efforts of the FBI. Why can Ben Shepard connect the dots when everyone else is left in the cold? Grant’s story is interesting enough that we only need one cat in this cat-and-mouse game.

Redford directs the picture with a fine pacing, obviously relying on his many years in the business. He knows how to make an expert film. He’s able to capture winning performances from Sarandon, Julie Christie, Brendan Gleeson, Nick Nolte and Howard. I’ll even give credit to LaBeouf for bringing life to a cookie-cutter role.

Redford could have cast someone other than himself in Grant’s shoes and probably produce an equally effective feature, but then maybe The Company You Keep would have lost some of its undeniable rhythm. It’s not an award-worthy feature. It could even be argued that it’s spotty with its storytelling, but Redford has made a passionate movie that attempts to discuss some interesting topics. This discussion, no matter where a viewer might fall on the political spectrum, is largely missing from the cinematic dialogue. This could be one of the most intellectual action movies ever to hit movie theaters, and kudos to the whole cast and creative team for making everything drip with context.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • The Company You Keep

  • 2013

  • Directed by Robert Redford

  • Written by Lem Dobbs; based on the book by Neil Gordon

  • Starring Redford, Susan Sarandon, Shia LaBeouf, Nick Nolte, Terrence Howard and Julie Christie

  • Running time: 120 minutes

  • Rated R for language

  • Rating: ★★★½

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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