“The company you keep is a direct reflection on how people perceive you.” These words, from my mother, resonate in my mind, and I have passed them on to my son and my students. Robert Redford’s new movie The Company You Keep demonstrates the very notion of my mother’s (and I am sure countless parents) words. Redford has the smarts to put a first-rate cast in front of the camera, making a bit of a clunky, multi-tiered story highly engaging.
Based on the 2003 book by Neil Gordon (seemingly inspired by the 1999 arrest of Symbionese Liberation Army member Sara Jane Olson) and scripted by Lem Dobbs, The Company You Keep’s central focus lies in the arrest of Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), a dedicated mother and housewife, connected to a series of anti-government protests and crimes in the late 1960s, including a bank robbery that resulted in the death of a guard. Her decision affects other members of the group, called the Weathermen. Ben Shepherd (Shia LaBeouf), a reporter on a small Albany newspaper, looking to impress his editor (Stanley Tucci), digs into clues and rumors surrounding Sharon’s arrest that lead him to discover Jim Grant (Redford) a lawyer and single dad, with a many secrets.
As noted, Redford smartly surrounds himself with amazing stars and their very brightness kept me engaged. As I get older, I more appreciate seeing veterans like these show their stuff. Given the multi-pronged story, however, the majority of Redford’s cast has little screen time. It is LaBeouf and Redford himself who carry this film. The younger actor holds his own and offers a wholly engaging character, who we champion, even when he falters. Redford, still ruggedly handsome, does what he does well, but frankly, I feel he is far too old for this role and this distracted me a tad – especially when he runs (literally) from FBI Agent Cornelius (Terrance Howard). Certainly, he is clearly capable, but his age visibly shows. I’ll give him the leeway to play a father (not grandfather, as his age dictates) of a twelve-year-old girl, but since he is nearer to my father’s age than my brother’s (a boomer), he is at least a decade too old for the timeframe laid out for us. Regardless, Redford as director pays off.
Other talented actors star – Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, Brit Marling, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins and Chris Cooper. Yes, Redford cast his film well. But where its stars shine bright, the story sparks, then flashes a flame, but too often, its flame flickers more than we’d hope. Still, it held my interest, because its flashes intrigue enough, and Redford’s hand on the helm makes a difference. I like that he never hurries and yet, manages to hold interest with a few well placed twists – a couple which even surprised me. Some will argue the story lacks freshness and they’d be right and other might say Dobb’s tales tries to cover too much involving too many characters. While all lines lead back to Jim and the road there meanders, but with Redford directing, there is an obvious maturity in his choices, making up for scripting issues.
I left The Company You Keep content and satisfied. I would have like a more gratifying ending, but unlike some in attendance, I did enjoy the overall experience, especially, as noted, this impressive ensemble of actors. They and they alone manage to pull up what would otherwise be little more than tale of aging radicals who grow up to the consequences actions – hardly a new story. I am placing a B- in my grade book. Redford still has IT.