COMPANY YOU KEEP, THE
When Sharon (Susan Sarandon), a former member of the radical protest/terrorist organisation, the Weather Underground, turns herself in to the FBI, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), an aggressive young journalist at the Albany Sun Times, starts searching around for leads on the other members. Before long Ben uncovers Jim Grant (Robert Redford) a former Weatherman and a fugitive wanted for murder during an activist bank robbery 30 years earlier. After living under an assumed identity as a civil rights lawyer and single father in New York, he must now go on the run. With the FBI in hot pursuit and Shepard getting closer to discovering his secret, Grant sets off on a cross-country journey to track down the one person that can clear his name and allow him to go home to his 12 year old daughter Isabel (Jackie Evancho).
Review by Louise Keller:
The changing face of idealism is the theme of this gripping, runaway thriller that meshes the generations and takes off the moment it begins. Screenwriter Lem Dobbs has succinctly adapted Neil Gordon's novel about 60s political activists who find themselves in the spotlight again and is the perfect project for Robert Redford, who sits comfortably in the hot seat as director and star. Political thriller, drama and coming of age story, the film finds the scent and follows a compelling trail of secrets. It's a ripper.
Our journey takes place through the eyes of the bespectacled, cocky, ambitious journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) who, with the arrogance of youth and a mind as smart as a whip, finds himself a scoop. The killing of a Michigan security officer by radicals in the context of the 60s radical terrorist network the Weather Underground, established in the opening montage sets the scene. The arrest of Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), one of those responsible, after living in hiding for more than 30 years begins the domino effect.
Dobbs' screenplay is beautifully constructed as one revelation leads to another. Redford is totally credible as Jim Grant, an attorney and single parent, whose priority is his 11 year old daughter Isabel (Jackie Evancho, impressive). As Grant's true identity is revealed and he goes into hiding, it is as though a secret pathway opens up, leading him (and us) to his connections with the past.
Redford has cherry picked an ideal cast of baby boomers and as each makes their appearance, it is as though we receive yet another bonus. There's Chris Cooper as Grant's tight-lipped brother, Richard Jenkins as the righteous lecturer, mumble-mouth Nick Nolte as the lumber-yard owner, Sam Elliott as the hippie who remains a hippie, Brendan Gleeson as the retired cop and 60s icon Julie Christie as Mimi, with whom Grant shares a history. Additionally, there's Stanley Tucci as the Albany Sun Times' editor, Terrence Howard as the FBI agent heading the pursuit and Anna Kendrick as an FBI employee with whom Ben has a connection. Brit Marling (remember her, as Richard Gere's daughter in Arbitrage?) is a standout as Gleeson's strong-willed, idealist daughter Rebecca and to whom Ben is attracted.
It is in the company of this discerning and interesting group of actors and their characters that we have the pleasure of being acquainted as we follow the leads. This is a film that is as good as the performances on offer. Issues of conscience become paramount as changing circumstances prompt decisions to be made. Once again, LaBeouf shows his capabilities and strengths and the rookie learns from the master that secrets can be dangerous and the wisdom of using them wisely.
The notion of trying to change the world - any way you can - has never gone out of date, and these are characters whose ideas and ideals shift in varying degrees. While conscience may colour our relationship to the past, it is our relationship with the present and the future that determines who we are today.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Serious issues, these, exploring how earnest - but outlaw - activists of 30 years ago, the anti-Vietnam era - are living these days. Living with themselves, that is. Drawing on Neil Gordon's well researched 2003 novel, Robert Redford teases out a fictional but credible scenario about a group of characters who were once glued together in the Weather Underground protest group. A violent robbery in which a security guard was killed forms the basis of the engine that drives this plot, in which the murder suspect, Jim Grant (Robert Redford), has been literally underground ever since.
The scab is ripped off when another member, now a responsible middle aged mother of two, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), is arrested - on the verge of turning herself in voluntarily. The chain reaction leads to an eager and ambitious young journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LaBoeuf) stalking Grant suspecting a scoop. Complications include Grant having a 12 year old daughter Isabel (Jackie Evancho) who he wants to protect, and a recalcitrant old colleague-in-arms, Mimi (Julie Christie), who could clear Grant with her self incriminating testimony.
The stakes are high: everyone's life is at risk in some way, and secrets may be revealed that could impact on others. The elements are in place for a taut, character driven drama in which moral ambiguities and political positions are confronted.
Redford has chosen the best cast he could to do the job, and they are all leading lights, from the youngest (Evancho) to one of the oldest (Nick Nolte, whose voice is now so rusty as to be almost unintelligible). Nolte plays one of his old buddies, as do Sarandon and Richard Jenkins, while Chris Cooper plays his estranged but loyal brother, Anna Kendrick plays a young FBI officer who used to befriend Shepard at high school (and is a crucial inside contact), Stanley Tucci as Shepard's editor and Brendan Gleeson as the retired cop on duty at the time of the murder. Terrence Howard is solid as the senior FBI agent Cornelius, and Sam Elliot as Mac, Mimi's supportive partner.
The screenplay pays as much - or more - attention to the underlying themes as it does to the Underground's political history, trying to examine how attitudes and moralities have changed. Although this lends gravitas, there are some confusing scenes that detract from the chase and from clarifying who did what at the crime scene.
Both Redford and Christie look their age and the story emphasises it - as well as the maturity that comes with it. The Company You Keep is an intelligent thriller that makes a decent double with Redford's 2001 Spy Game (dir. Tony Scott) co-starring Brad Pitt.
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COMPANY YOU KEEP, THE (M)
CAST: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Stanley Tucci, Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Jackie Evancho, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Brit Marling, Chris Cooper
PRODUCER: Robert Redford, Nicholas Cartier, Bill Holderman,
DIRECTOR: Robert Redford
SCRIPT: Lem Dobbs (novel by Neil Gordon)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adriano Goldman
EDITOR: Mark Day
MUSIC: Cliff Martinez
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Laurence Bennett
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 18, 2013