THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

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3 stars
Before Occupy Wall St or the Arab Spring, and long before people protested No Blood For Oil, there was The Weather Underground. Radicals felt one way to focus the thoughts of carnage in Vietnam was to bring the war home with surgical bombing (buildings, not people) on American soil. Flash forward forty years and one wanted Weather person still in hiding (Susan Sarandon) is caught by the FBI, an event that puts hungry journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) on the tail of a small town lawyer Jim Grant (Robert Redford) who may know more than he’s letting on. And so the chase begins.

As much as anything, Redford’s dramatic thriller is an epilepsy-inducing exercise in spot the stars (Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliott and Anna Kendrick among those who join the sparkling cast). Working from a punchy script by Lem Dobbs (The Score, The Limey), Redford has crafted an engaging drama that serves as an strident reminder of his political values, and the causes that shaped them. While he clearly has no sympathy with murder as a protest tool, dissent is the bedrock of his democracy. It’s a recurring theme, notably in 2007’s Lions For Lambs.

Noble intentions notwithstanding, the tense heart of The Company You Keep resides in Grant’s duplicitous dealings and double identity. That Redford chooses to reveal them through a cross-country chase is where credibility begins to fray. A 77 year old man, with a 12 year old daughter no less, outwits and outruns well-equipped G-men aided by a network of geriatric dissidents in hiding? It’s a distracting stretch which Redford, on balance, fails to reign in. There’s interesting material here that serves a welcome reminder about public participation in a post-Wikileaks world. But Redford’s surprisingly formula slant on police, media and activism drops it all in a box marked shrill.

// COLIN FRASER

Previewed at Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on Thursday 11th April, 2013

4 stars
The Weather Underground was an organisation opposed to the war in Vietnam that grew out of the Students for a Democratic Society groups on US campuses in the 1970s. A clandestine, militant, revolutionary movement, its goal was to overthrow the US government by conducting a campaign of bombings targeting government buildings (evacuation warnings were issued prior to the explosions, consequently no civilians were hurt). It was a period in history when young men were conscripted and sent off to fight a war that many did not agree with; the Weathermen believed that “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” (adopting their name from Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues) and that the aggressive, anti-Communist US government needed to be brought down in order to stop the war.

The Company You Keep, although a work of fiction, does, in Robert Redford’s words, “…..give the audience a look inside of an event that is a piece of American history.” Redford has also said that while he was not involved personally in the movement as he was busy raising his family during those years, he knew of people who were committed to the cause. His aim was to make a film that dealt more with the question of whether or not people change their political beliefs over time and how one is often held ransom by the past until the truth emerges. In this case, his story involves a zealous journalist and a fugitive who has long been underground, both of whom are searching for the truth.

Jim Grant (Robert Redford – Ordinary People / Quiz Show) is a single father who has been working as a civil rights lawyer for a number of years in leafy Albany, NY, when his past catches up with him after the arrest of one of his former Weathermen comrades, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon – Thelma and Louise / Dead Man Walking). A local journalist, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf – Transformers / Dark Side Of The Moon), becomes involved and figures there is a Pulitzer Prize-winning story in the offing. He, and we, go on the run when Grant, accused of killing someone during a long-ago armed robbery, leaves his daughter Rebecca (Brit Marling – Another Earth / Sound Of My Own Voice), with his brother Daniel (Chris Cooper – American Beauty / The Bourne Identity), and sets off to contact other members of the organisation in order to clear his name.

This is one of the Oscar-winning Redford’s best works as both director and actor, a superior film on all levels. Lem Dobbs’ screenplay, adapted from Neil Gordon’s novel of the same name, is a complex, taut tale that keeps you riveted for over two hours. An amazing cast includes Julie Christie (Doctor Zhivago / Red Riding Hood) who plays Mimi, a non-repentant radical; Sam Elliot (Up In The Air / Ghost Rider), who’s an old leftie living the good life; Nick Nolte (Thin Red Line / Cape Fear), who knows where all the underground Weathermen are; and Brendan Gleeson (The Guard / In Bruges) as a retired police chief. Sarandon gives one of her finest recent performances when interviewed by LaBeouf while she is awaiting trial: he represents a generation whose attitude to the ‘60s is one of derision and cynicism; she is still the passionate radical, committed to creating a world which gave people their civil rights and who now bears no regrets for her past actions. Perhaps the real message in The Company You Keep is that the way you choose to live depends upon the principles you uphold. As Grant says to Shepard at a crucial point in the film, “Secrets are dangerous things, Ben. We all think we want to know them. But if you've ever kept one yourself then you understand to do so is not just knowing something about someone else, it's discovering something about yourself.”

// SALT

Previewed at Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on Thursday 11th April, 2013


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STUFF

CAST
Robert Redford
Shia LaBeouf
Susan Sarandon
Julie Christie

DIRECTOR
Robert Redford

SCREENWRITER
Lem Dobbs

COUNTRY
USA

CLASSIFICATION
M

RUNTIME
124 minutes

AUSTRALIAN
RELEASE DATE
April 18, 2013
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The Company You Keep (2012) on IMDb
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