Steady Redford in good company
It is an old-fashioned (or maybe just “old”) notion to hope for a quiet, thought provoking, quasi-political thriller during the summer season of high-budget, mega-hyped, very loud blockbusters. But for those who remember what investigative journalism is, and what the tumultuous 1960s stood for, and like a little ol’ Robert Redford in their old fashioned movies, you could do a lot worse any time of year than the well-executed “The Company You Keep.”
Redford stars and directs as Nick Sloan, a former member of a militant group The Weather Underground, who has changed his identity to Jim Grant and lived incognito for years as a successful attorney. When a former fellow radical (Susan Sarandon), who has also lived under a different name, is arrested in nearby upstate New York, the recently widowed Sloan leaves his young daughter (Jackie Evancho, an “America’s Got Talent runner-up) under the care of his brother (Chris Cooper), and goes on the run to clear his name from a long ago bank robbery that left a security guard dead.
A manhunt ensues, and a young reporter (Shia Labeouf) does what good reporters do, or at least used to do. Oversized raincoat, crumpled hair and goofy glasses provide Labeouf the hangdog look of a veteran journalist as he follows every lead, asks tough questions, works day and night and sniffs out the big story tracking down Grant and his connections.
Redford skillfully directs a cast so talented and comprehensive it threatens to overpower the briskly unassuming script. Also involved are Nick Nolte, Stanley Tucci, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Sam Elliott, and Brendan Gleeson. Julie Christie is particularly effective as the former flame who may hold the key to Grant’s freedom, and Brit Marling who helps ignite the affections of LaBeouf’s reporter. (It’s a much needed, but only barely developed romantic angle.) There is also a tenderly resolved father-daughter element that helps keep the excellent screenplay (written by Lem Dobbs from a book by Neil Gordon) from straying into overly benign ideological territory.
There are indeed discussions, smart discussions, as one would expect from a Redford film (see the under-appreciated “Lions for Lambs”) about political ideology, the practical realities and costs of civil disobedience, and causes worth fighting for. (Inciting worthy debate for those who care.)
It is also great to see investigative journalism in an almost heroic light – itself practically an art near extinction.
Some of the chronology is a bit off – don’t do the math—but we forgive these veteran actors for playing roles too young if they’ll forgive us for catapulting the box office grosses of grossly lightweight (by comparison) fare about superheroes, fictitious space travelers, and fast car muscle maniacs into the stratosphere.
Surely there is an audience for the smartly written and executed “The Company You Keep,” but perhaps it is in hiding as well.
Rated R for language including about 15 F-words.