– Summary –
Director : Robert Redford
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Brendan Gleeson, Anna Kendrick, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliot, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper, Jackie Evancho, Brit Marling.
Approx Running Time : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: When an FBI fugitive goes on the run to protect his family as a result of a crime some 30 years prior, a newspaper reporter works the case to uncover the truth about him.
What we think : Meandering pseudo-political thriller plays its fairly straight down the line with respect to casting, pacing and trying to wring every dramatic nuance from an otherwise hollow script. Redford’s direction is at times melancholy, at times beautiful, but it’s also more often than not too plodding in its quest to make us think it’s better than it is, and even though the cast is littered with “oh, they’re in this movie too?” moments, there just isn’t enough grit within the dialogue to really spark the imagination. I’m inclined to expect more from Redford – his track record with involving stories on film isn’t terrible, to say the least – but I think this effort lacks momentum and energy. That, and Julie Christie looks bored throughout it – and if she’s bored, then so am I.
I was born sometime toward the end of the Vietnam War. I’m not old enough to remember it directly, only from what I’ve read about and seen well after the fact on television and on film. Robert Redford, who obviously holds some kind of agenda towards the American Government for his barely-veiled criticism of the war (although in fairness, this film is based on a book written by somebody else, so I guess there’s a degree of separation there, but not much) tries to give us a “ghosts of the past” thriller, and ends up delivering an undercooked, often overly melancholy and entirely lethargic dramatic misfire. It’s a shame, because the film is packed to the gills with star talent (most of whom exist in cameo roles) and deserved a whole lot better than what came out. The Company You Keep has its roots in the political activism which occurred around the US’s involvement in Vietnam, and through a tenuously believable connection with the present, time-warps it into the modern day. Mom and Pop play Spy, I guess you could say. While the emotional connection with ‘Nam isn’t one I have within me, it’s fairly obvious that it does for a lot of people still (rightly so, I guess) and I think it’s to this audience, not me, that Redford plays his movie.
Recently widowed lawyer Jim Grant (Robert Redford) learns that a former associate in an activist movement during the 70’s, the Weather Underground, has been arrested in relation to a murder committed during a robbery some 30 years prior. Grant realizes that his own involvement with the woman, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) puts his life in danger, and so he goes on the run, after leaving his young daughter with a family member. Meanwhile, Atlanta newspaper reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) begins to investigate the arrest and the case overall, eventually tracking down the real identity of Grant, as Nick Sloan, a wanted fugitive from the FBI. As he digs further, Shepard begins to realize that Sloan/Grant may not be the man everyone thinks he is. With the FBI pursuing Sloan across the country, Sloan meets up with former “Weathermen” members to locate a former flame, Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), a woman from his past who can save his future and protect his family.
The Company You Keep is a story of two men, one played by Robert Redford, who’s seeking to clear his name from a crime back in the 70’s, and the other by Shia LaBeouf, playing a young, hungry reporter seeking a story with which to make his name. Told primarily as a dual narrative, Redford and LaBeouf perform with a real sense of reality about them in their respective roles, and yet they seem to swim in a pool of disinterest and lingering malaise. Redford also directed this film, and in many ways I suspect that had he not – or at least, remained just in front of the camera and not behind it as well – the focus of the picture would feel a little less diffuse, and more cutting. The core premise of the story isn’t at fault here, and if anything it’s an idea that bears a more in-depth look at some stage, but there’s too many generic characters (the grumpy newspaper editor, the alienated brother, the driven yet one-step-behind FBI agent, the mistresses and floozies and innocent children) taking up time they needn’t that undoes a lot of Redford’s good work. When the film focuses on the chase, or LaBeouf’s investigative journey, things crack along nicely, but by the third act things take a turn into snoozeville as Redford and Christie sit down for a ten minute gab-fest that drags the film to a screeching halt. I actually think I had a micro-sleep there.
It’s as if Redford’s trying to pack in some kind of statement about US government policy while attending to a fairly straightforward crime thriller, and overdoes his hand. Like mixing oil and water, it just doesn’t work. The pursuit and investigative strands of the story are well and good on their own, but Redford’s sideways glance at what history has proven, and his none-to0-subtle message about that in the finale, smacks of condescension towards the audience. I’m all for making a statement, but the base story itself need to be solid enough to support it, and this one isn’t.
Generally, Redford and LaBeouf carry this film well, LaBeouf in particular for his less stammery than usual patter with dialogue. While I still can’t see him as a driven, up-and-coming reporter for a newspaper (didn’t know those things still existed in this day and age!) instead of an aide to Optimus Prime, LaBeouf’s able to ingratiate himself into my good graces with a fine, meticulous performance that never wavers with honesty and integrity. Redford’s much the same, although he still seems… disinterested by his part in the film. He seems like he’s going through the motions, kind of just drifting along, saying the lines and just waiting to collect his directors paycheck. Julie Christie as well, seems utterly bored by the whole project; what, did she sign on for this as a courtesy (or debt) to Redford? She’s a better actress than this, but you can just see the “really, you want me to say that?” look in her eyes that cripples what was supposed to be a crucial scene at the end. Brendan Gleeson underwhelms as a retired police chief, while Terrence Howard does solid – if unremarkable – work as FBI agent Cornelius, who’s overseeing the chase. Susan Sarandon looks like she’s not even present in the room while delivering her lines, Richard Jenkins is as dependably magnificent as always (I just wish he’d get better roles than this!), and Sam Elliot and Nick Nolte bring their usual gruff selves to this subterfuge.
So where does The Company You Keep really fall down? Mainly in Redford’s meandering pacing, which borders on asinine from time to time; I’m okay with character development, but none of what passes for it in this film is in any way believable. Or convincing. The script barely raises the pulse, the plot twists can be seen coming a mile away (for the most part) and the denouement lacks punch or effectiveness. LaBeouf’s character keeps being told to look inside himself for the answers to what he’s seeking (dear God, somebody watched Star Wars before writing this) but in the end, he has about as much moral quandary as I do checking out another woman’s ass while out walking with my wife. I tried to get into the tension of the film, I really did, but every time Redford disconnected with me through some sage piece of “wisdom”, any visceral emotion I felt evaporated immediately.
It’s not that this is a bad film, at least not for lack of trying. It’s just not a very good film. The Company You Keep tries for evocative, tries for compelling, and ends up just being mediocre. With that in mind, I recommend this film purely on the basis that Robert Redford’s in it, and LaBeouf isn’t as annoying as normal.