The Company You Keep
What happens when '60s radicals go underground, take on new identities, and resurface to live downright suburban lives?
So many of us can look back at different eras of our lives and say that we were different people, but for some members of groups like the Weather Underground, it's quite literally true. The Company You Keep takes its cues from those members of the Underground who left the group and remained fugitives, whether literally on the run or figuratively, with new names and lives. What's especially interesting is that these radical leftists, who some have called terrorists, are now our parents and grandparents, our lawyers and professors, living normal - one might even say bourgeois - lives.
That's the case with Jim Grant (Robert Redford), an upstanding citizen, father, and lawyer who takes on the sort of do-gooder cases that are usually the bread and butter of avowed bleeding hearts and not well-to-do widowers. When a former Weather Underground member named Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) turns herself in, the story falls in the lap of Ben Shepard, a hungry young reporter played by a bespectacled and smarmy Shia LaBeouf. Once Ben starts sniffing around, Jim's guard goes up, which only makes the journalist more curious. What unfurls is a network of former Weathermen, some of whom still live under the radar and on the run, and others that left the group before things got too hairy. None of them are particularly thrilled to see their former comrade come calling, either. Ben's trying his damndest to stay on top of the story even as the trail takes him across the country, but Jim's one step ahead of him. The question is what he's running away from or, as Ben suspects, towards.
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The Company You Keep gives up its secrets too readily. Sharon Solarz is more than happy to grant her only jailhouse interview to Ben so she can expound on her radical values, though it's not clear why she was planning to give herself up or how the FBI managed to catch her beforehand. The FBI agents are just a tad too cartoonish, like Terrence Howard's suspicious Agent Cornelius and Anna Kendrick's Diana, who helps Ben out a little simply because he's the kind of jackass who would ask a former flame for such a favor. Other flourishes get lost in the mix; there are nods to the changing landscape of journalism, like Ben's harried boss played by Stanley Tucci, and a truncated subplot that gives you the feeling something was left on the cutting room floor, to the detriment to the story.
It's hard to deny the gravitas of Robert Redford, whether as a patron of the arts, a director, or an actor. His strength of character lends The Company You Keep an air of seriousness that benefits this promising thriller, but neither he nor the impressive cast can keep this film moving. Some of the scenes are wonderfully tense, but the energy lags when the focus shifts to Ben's storyline. He does get journalism points for using a microfiche reader, though.
The movie already clocks in at 125 minutes, so some of Jim's cross-country travels could have been trimmed. The quality of the filmmaking, from cinematography to the music by Cliff Martinez, is hard to find fault with, but The Company You Keep doesn't linger after the credits roll.
[Photo Credit: Sony Classics]