Robert Redford’s latest film The Company You Keep explores the aftermath of 60’s radicalism in the present day. What initially seems like an intense political drama ends up as a well-made but tepid meditation on ageing, community, adult responsibility and the dimming fire of youthful idealism.
Redford plays respected upstate New York lawyer and single father Jim Grant. Unknown to the public is his real name Nick Sloane and his former involvement in The Weather Underground or Weathermen a militant faction of the 60’s student anti-war movement which, among other forms of protest, bombed government buildings. In what seems to be a reference to Patty Hearst and the SLA (rather than the actual Weather Underground) the film also has some of the Weathermen robbing a bank and killing a guard in 1980. When eager young journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) exposes Grant’s former life, Grant goes on the run and with the aid of underground connections and the impenetrable disguise of a baseball cap, searches for Mimi (Julie Christie) a former underground member who may be able to clear him of any involvement in the bank killing.
The film turns into a strange mix of Fugitive-style chase movie and Lions for Lambs-style political polemic. This odd combination results in a disjointed film where the chase elements lack excitement and the political discussion seems half- baked. The film almost makes some potent points about the dumbing down of journalism and the capitulation of mass media to conservative values but doesn’t explore the issue in sufficient depth. Added to this is a questionable romantic subplot that takes the film into soap opera territory.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its attractions. Scriptwriter Lem Dobbs fashions clever and articulate dialogue which achieves the remarkable feat of turning LaBeouf’s journalist into an interesting and likeable character. Also, Redford provides his typically cool, efficient and aesthetically appealing direction.
Redford has also assembled a remarkable cast of respected actors with Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Sam Elliot, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins and Brendon Gleeson in addition to Christie and Redford himself. Although the film tends to leap from one character to another, each of these fine actors still makes memorable use of the time allotted to them.
While it’s still an impressive film on a number of levels, The Company You Keep lacks the spark or consistency of purpose that could have made it a fascinating political drama.
Nick’s rating: Three stars.
Director(s): Robert Redford.
Release date: 18th April 2013.
Running time: 125 mins.
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