'The Company You Keep': Redford's thriller doesn't add up
By James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
There's nothing achingly, immediately wrong-with-a-capital-W about Robert Redford's "The Company You Keep," but even with its ace cast and a script by Lem Dobbs ("The Limey," "Haywire") that occasionally crackles with acid smarts, there's nothing impressively, immediately right-with-a-capital-R about it, either. Starring Redford as an ex-Weather Underground activist on the lam for decades after a bank robbery where a guard died, "The Company You Keep" never quite takes off, either as a thriller armored up with serious political discussions to give it ballast and gravitas, or as a drama about America in the 1960s and the 2010s and all the years in between, shot up with a little fugitive juice to keep it moving.
Jim Grant (Redford) has been in hiding for decades (oddly enough, the film and its characters keep referring to the late '60s heyday of the Weather Underground in terms of "30 years ago" -- which, technically, is the Reagan era, not the radicalized late '60s and early '70s), but one of his long-ago confederates, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), has turned herself in after her years of hiding. Ambitious young reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) from the local Albany Sun-Times starts working the story, knowing only that Grant's public-interest lawyer refused to take the case, and Shepard swiftly puts it together that Grant's not taking the case because he was her long-lost confederate in the robbery-murder.
Grant goes on the run, leaving his 9-year-old daughter (Jackie Evancho) with his brother Daniel Sloan (Chris Cooper) while he's looking for the last surviving member of the bank-robbery group, Julie Christie, with both LaBeouf and stock-dialogue FBI man Terrence Howard on his tail. Grant goes on a cross-country race, but in search of what, exactly? A new identity? Or the redemption of his old one?
Much like Dobbs' "The Limey," "The Company You Keep" (adapting Neil Gordon's 2003 novel, which may explain the film's funky timeline) is in many ways a meditation on the gap between the '60s and now, as well as on the similarities. While Richard Jenkins' ex-radical has become an academic, for example, others aren't so assimilated. "I'll turn myself in when the presidents and the corporations turn themselves in. Nothing's changed," one character notes, and it's half phony bravado and part sincere manifesto. Unlike "The Limey," swiftly and speedily directed by Soderbergh, Redford's film is a two-hour-five-minute slog, where the regular appearance of great actors (Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Julie Christie, Stephen Root, Anna Kendrick, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte) does not remove the sense that they aren't doing much.
Still, there are some things to like in "The Company You Keep." Clint Mansell's music is, as ever, excellent, and cinematographer Adriano Goldman ("Sin Nombre," "Jane Eyre") conveys the back roads-and-byways journeys the characters take in their flight and pursuit. The scenes with LaBeouf and Marling also have a nice snap and swiftness to them -- so much so that the rest of the film suffers in comparison. The film also gets to have a little fun with how LaBeouf -- with a scraggle of facial hair that's more than stubble but far less than a beard -- looks far too young to be an actual journalist, turning the audience's potential objection to the film's benefit before they even have it for themselves.
To its benefit, "The Company You Keep" is more entertaining, and less stridently "noble," than recent Redford efforts. Redford's still easy to watch -- he knows how to work a scene on either side of the lens -- and if the now-76-year-old Redford is more "on the fast walk" than he is "on the run," technically, at least his talent, charisma and skill are less diminished by time's passage than his jogging speed. "The Company You Keep" has a superb company of actors. It's too bad that the film does so little to keep their, or your, interest.
James Rocchi has written reviews and articles for print and online publications, including Total Film Magazine, the Toronto Star, IndieWire's The Playlist, Mother Jones, AMCtv.com and Cinematical.com. He's covered film festivals including Sundance, Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW and Fantastic Fest. He's been an on-air reviewer for CBS-5 San Francisco and a reviewer and commentator for CNN, G4, TechTV and more. He lives in Los Angeles, which is both exactly and not at all like the movies suggest it is.