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THE COMPANY YOU KEEP – The Review

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A former member of the revolutionary militant group the Weather Underground goes on the run after a journalist outs him in THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, a political thriller directed by Robert Redford and based on Neil Gordon’s novel. It’s a film that touches on the costs of political commitment, specifically the fervent activism of young college kids in the ’60s who, swept up in the revolutionary moment, took actions that they pay for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, it’s not as thought-provoking, or as political, as it sounds. Since Redford doesn’t have the guts to either condemn or applaud the Weather Underground radicals, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP basically boils down to one long, boring chase. There’s a subject here for a good movie, perhaps even a great one, but this isn’t it.

Redford, Susan Sarandon, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte and Julie Christie  play former ‘Weathermen’ from the ‘60s who have all shed their identities and now are hiding in plain sight as lawyers, housewives, college professors, and pot runners (I guess Jane Fonda was busy) . Turns out that one of their robberies decades ago resulted in the death of a bank guard. Oops! Redford (looking every one of his 76 years here) plays Jim Grant, a widowed Albany lawyer with an 11-year old daughter (!) who for decades has hidden the fact that he is wanted as an accomplice in that fatal robbery. His cover’s blown when one of his fellow terrorists (Susan Sarandon), a housewife living under an assumed name, is arrested by the FBI. Ambitious young reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) begins investigating her old comrades and Grant, feeling the heat, goes underground again, seeking help from other ex-radicals. Some remain true to their old beliefs; others want no reminders of their past affiliations. Grant, with the feds (lead by Terrence Howard and Anna Kendrick) on his trail, puts his long-dormant survival skills to use while wondering who to trust.

In a twist you could see coming with your eyes closed, it turns out (…mild Spoiler Warning…) Grant wasn’t at the fatal bank robbery after all and the script for THE COMPANY YOU KEEP by Lem Dobbs spends most of its time on the clever, THE FUGITIVE-style maneuvers Grant uses to exonerate himself. Redford gives us scenes that are supposed to be tense, such as one where Grant hands off his daughter to his brother (Chris Cooper) in the lobby of a hotel surrounded by police looking for him and another similar one on a subway train. These getaway chase scenes are poorly paced and blandly directed, containing not a speck of suspense. Much of the problem is Redford himself. Not only does he exhibit creaky directorial skills, he’s far too old for the lead role. Redford would have been in college in the mid 50’s, not the late ‘60s. He seems like a stiff old man, his wrinkled face lacking urgency. Worse is LaBeouf, who overacts like he’s in a roadshow version of The Front Page. I’m surprised he’s not wearing a fedora and a pencil in his ear. Watch him bug his eyes out when he first spots lovely Brit Marling as Redford and Christie’s long-abandoned daughter (don’t ask). Nolte and Jenkins have the most fun with their roles but one crime Redford is guilty of is making Julie Christie look tired and unglamorous (a first!).

While I wouldn’t say Redford glorifies the Weather Underground with THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, he certainly looks at them through rose-colored glasses, mostly ignoring their legacy of violence and murder. The film is never quite clear on what it thinks about these domestic terrorists – not about whether these individual members were guilty or innocent, but whether they were good or bad. THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is about people who made a choice while young and foolish and are living with the consequences of their actions. During the course of the film these characters should have to re-evaluate their decisions but they don’t. Why did this group of privileged kids declare war on their government? Do they feel regret for their actions? Is it really heroic to leave your loved ones behind just to save your own skin? Only one scene in THE COMPANY YOU KEEP attempts to address these questions and it’s a powerful one where Susan Sarandon delivers a strident if queasy jailhouse speech on how, if given the chance, she’d do it all again. Problem is, she delivers this discourse with such conviction that there seems to be no way this remorseless woman could have kept it bottled up for so many years. But it’s a good scene, the only time the movie really comes alive, and it’s when you realize what a livelier film this would be if Redford would have just gone for broke and given in to his (and much of his cast’s) left wing instincts. As it is, nothing seems passionate or genuine in THE COMPANY YOU KEEP and I can’t recommend it.

2 of 5 stars

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP opens in St. Louis April 25th at (among other places) Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Theater

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