Robert Redford’s unabashedly heartfelt but competent tribute to 1960s idealism won’t spark riots at the box office
For his latest movie, Redford works from a script by veteran screenwriter Lem Dobbs (“The Limey,” “Haywire”) that tries to create something akin to “All the President’s Men,” and though the basis of the story is based in the reality of the Weather Underground. The characters and situations in The Company You Keep (Cuu Chien Binh) are fictionalized.
After an introduction to the Weather Underground via newsreel footage. We’re brought into the story as we watch Susan Sarandon’s Sharon Solarz being arrested by the FBI. You may wonder why the FBI are so persistent about going after wanted criminals thirty years after their crime. But that’s only one of the questions that may persist while watching the movie. We then meet Redford’s Jim Grant. A lawyer who has been contacted to help Sharon, who may have a connection to the Weather Underground.
In fact, Grant is wanted for the murder of a security guard during a bank robbery by one faction of the Weather Underground. But knowing his innocence, he leaves his teen daughter with his brother (Chris Cooper). And goes looking for his former colleague Mimi Lurie. Who can vouch for the fact Jim wasn’t there on the day of the bank robbery. Even if she’d have to turn herself in to clear him.
Dobbs has written another strong dialogue-heavy script, which takes a two-pronged course. Following Shia LaBeouf’s Ben Shepard as he looks for answers while Jim Grant tries to reconnect with his former colleagues in order to find Mimi. Redford is good. But he’s clearly become a stronger director than he is an actor. And playing a role that involves a lot of running around and keeping ahead of the FBI. A bit like a significantly older Jason Bourne, only goes so far. Whatever you want to say about Shia LaBeouf. The kid can act, and his half of the movie, following a journalist trying to track down answers. Makes for a far more interesting movie than watching a 70-year-old man trying to outrace the FBI. Surprisingly, they only have a few scenes together.
Robert Redford has assembled an impressive ensemble of fine actors around them from Chris Cooper to Brendan Gleeson to Richard Jenkins and Sam Elliot, many of them just popping up for a scene or two and then they’re gone. Meaning some are more memorable than others, depending on their amount of screen time. Considering how little we get to see Julie Christie on screen anymore. She deserved a much more prominent role. Although she brings more to her scenes as Mimi than many of the others.
Likewise, Susan Sarandon has a great moment with LaBeouf in prison. But then she disappears for the rest of the movie and surely Stanley Tucci could have been given a stronger role than Ben’s boss at the Albany Chronicle, a performance he literally could give in his sleep. Terrence Howard doesn’t come off as a very good choice for the FBI agent looking for Grant while Anna Kendrick’s FBI agent serves very little purpose to the overall story, so this is a classic case of a story involving too many characters, mostly introduced to try to make things more interesting, but just muddling things up.
Shepard eventually learns that Grant had a baby daughter with Mimi and he follows her to Ann Arbor, Michigan. But as terrific as Brit Marling is in the role of the grown-up daughter unaware of her parents’ history. It’s the type of plot turn that adds very little to the story. Without it, the film would have been perfectly fine and maybe 20 minutes shorter, which would ultimately improve it.