Robert Redford’s solid new movie The Company You Keep looks intelligently at the realities faced by aging radicals, members of a fictional version of the Weather Underground, an organization that used violence as a means of social and political change during the Vietnam War. The activists have lived under assumed names for years, since some of them were implicated in the killing of a security guard in a bank robbery; now, one of their covers is blown, and everyone’s freedom is in jeopardy.
Redford, who also directed the film (his ninth as a director), plays Jim Grant, a pillar of his community, a widower and devoted late-in-life father to an 11-year-old daughter, who must confront old secrets to protect his new life.
You can call it a thriller, and it certainly has enough tense moments of pursuit and danger, but the film is really built around a series of conversations, arguments and discussions about the politics of dissent in America, about the reactions of young people to the Vietnam War, and about the changes in the culture since the ’60s. In an impressive coup of casting, Redford gathers Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Sam Eliot and Chris Cooper to play those people who share Grant’s past life. Some wish it had never happened, some are still committed to the cause and almost all of them have regrets. Redford allows the arguments to play out to a length not often seen in movies of the 21st Century, layering the story with opposing viewpoints but not choosing sides. A sadness runs through it, as ideals and aspirations give way to the passage of time. All these actors deliver mature and nuanced performances; the scenes with Redford and Nolte could become a great movie all on their own.
Meanwhile, an eager young journalist played by Shia LeBeouf uncovers facts faster than the FBI. In All the President’s Men, Redford proved that a story built around a journalistic investigation could be thrilling, even when the audience knows the outcome. Jackie Evchenko, in her first film, is wonderful as Redford’s daughter, Terrance Howard is terrific as the lead FBI agent, and Stanley Tucci is as surefooted as usual (what can’t he play?) as the editor of the Albany Sun-Times.
What’s great is that this naturally wrinkly older man, Robert Redford, looks back to a time when his ideas and actions, political and personal, were at the very front of American culture, in a movie about just such a man. This double meaning leaps out of the fictional newspaper clippings, microfiche and police photos which feature a young and ruggedly handsome version of himself as a member of the Weather Underground. Redford is interested in the gray areas of American life, the conflicts and compromises, the confrontations and consequences. Though the movie does not hold the level of suspense it promises at the start, The Company You Keep is an entertaining and relevant consideration of the personal consequences of political engagement, made by a man who’s been there.
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (3) • Directed by Robert Redford • Starring Robert Redford, Shia LeBeouf, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Terrance Howard, Chris Cooper, Jackie Evchenko, Stanley Tucci • Rated R • 125 min. • At Osio Cinemas