By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As an actor for over half a century and as a filmmaker for over three decades, Robert Redford has been, at the very least, good company.
His directorial career, to say nothing of his run as a major movie star, has been inarguably impressive, distinguished by such fine films as Ordinary People, A River Runs Through It, Quiz Show, and The Horse Whisperer.
His latest as a director, The Company You Keep — a star-studded, thought-provoking political thriller which he also stars in and produced — is yet another work for him to be proud of and for us to be stimulated and entertained by.
It’s a fugitive thriller as well as a contemplative drama about a former member of the Weather Underground, the ’60s and ’70s anti-Vietnam War protesters that the press dubbed “The Weathermen.” They were part of a militant organization that broke away from the pacifistic Students for a Democratic Society, committed to the overthrow of the US government.
Redford plays Jim Grant, hiding in plain sight as an Albany civil rights attorney and single father who long ago submerged his radical activist past and his identity -– one Nick Sloan — and built a life under an assumed name.
But now, all these years later, his hand is forced when a former Weather Underground colleague, played by Susan Sarandon, is arrested by FBI agents for her participation in a deadly bank robbery in Michigan 30 years ago in which a security guard was killed during a botched bank robbery.
Ignoring the pleas of an enterprising young reporter played by Shia LeBeouf for his story, Grant goes on the run, in search of other reformed revolutionaries and ex-members of the radical fringe (and one in particular) to get a full picture of what happened on that fateful day and clear his name.
But this means leaving his young daughter behind.
The screenplay by Lem Dobbs, based on the 2006 novel by Neil Gordon, questions just what constitutes terrorism –- certainly a timely topic –- as it examines the way deeds and dreams and ideals of the past always inform and sometimes rudely intrude on the present.
Redford lets his complex story unfold slowly but surely, never letting the mountain of exposition block our view of the human story at its center, and springing the mild narrative surprises for maximum impact in this otherwise low-key film.
The large, skilled, veteran ensemble cast also includes Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, Stanley Tucci, Anna Kendrick, Sam Elliott, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins, Terrence Howard, Brit Marling, Stephen Root, and Brendan Gleeson. They’re a demonstration of Redford’s reach and the enviable company he keeps, as well as a reminder that he remains a director of actors who knows how to let actors act (this despite the fact that there are so many speaking roles in the film, many members of the cast are delivering what amount to extended cameo turns).
But these are actors who know how to convey an inner life and past connections in mere seconds.
As for on-screen Redford himself, he remains a compelling actor after all these years, even if he is undeniably too old for this particular role. Which, come to think of it, is part of the film’s problems with arithmetic: if you estimate ages of the characters depicted and the number of years that have gone by since the storied bank robbery, they just don’t add up.
However, the film is so winning in the ways that truly count, we just let the mathematical discrepancies pass.
An insightful and well-crafted exploration of the way times change but people don’t, an oblique critique of the current state of American journalism, and an honest consideration of whether much or most of the radical idealism of the sixties and seventies was misdirected, The Company You Keep is the kind of honorable and accomplished film that deserves an audience.
So we’ll protest 3 stars out of 4 for a smart, somber, nostalgic, engrossing, and ultimately moving drama. Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep is a keeper.