Director: Robert Redford
Cast: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Susan Sarandon
RunTime: 2 hrs 10 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/thecompanyyoukeep/
Opening Day: 9 May 2013
Synopsis: Jim Grant (Robert Redford) is a civil rights lawyer and single father raising his daughter in the tranquil suburbs of Albany, New York. His world is turned upside down, when a brash young reporter named Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), exposes Grant’s true identity as a former 1970s antiwar radical fugitive wanted for murder. After living for more than 30 years underground as a lawyer, Grant must now go on the run. He is the center of a nationwide manhunt and with the FBI in hot pursuit, he sets off on a cross- country journey to track down the one person that can clear his name.
Shepard knows the significance of the national news story he has exposed and for a journalist, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. Hell-bent on making a name for himself, he is willing to stop at nothing to capitalize on it. He digs deep into Grant’s past. Despite warnings from his editor and threats from the FBI, Shepard relentlessly tracks Grant across the country.
As Grant reopens old wounds and reconnects with former members of his antiwar group, the Weather Underground, Shepard realizes something about this man is just not adding up. With the FBI closing in, Shepard uncovers the shocking secrets Grant has been keeping for the past three decades. As Grant and Shepard come face to face in the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, they each must come to terms with who they really are.
Like its title suggests, the company you keep makes a whole lot of difference. Thankfully then, Robert Redford keeps good – even great – company in this nail-biting political thriller about 1970s radicals forced to go on the run decades later when their past catches up. Besides casting himself, he has assembled a who’s who of venerable Hollywood actors –including Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, and Richard Jenkins among others – and the ensemble ultimately lends distinguishable heft to a whole roster of supporting characters.
Adapted from Neil Gordon’s novel of the same name, it revolves around the hunt for a member of a former 1970s radical anti-war group The Weather Underground who goes on the run after the cover he has carefully built over the last thirty years is shattered by a young tenacious local reporter. Redford plays the wanted fugitive Nick Sloan, who arranges a plan for his brother (Cooper) to look after his 11-year-old daughter Isabel (Jackie Evancho) and then embarks on a cross-country trip looking up former comrades (played by Nolte and Jenkins) to locate the one person who can possibly clear his name - his ex-lover and former cohort Mimi Lurie (Christie).
While Nick searches for Mimi, another parallel narrative sets up reporter Ben Shepard’s (Shia LaBeouf) hunt for Nick, joined by no less than the very FBI led by Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) and his junior associate Diana (Anna Kendrick) who happens to be Nick’s former college hookup. Ben suspects that Nick isn’t simply running, and his own investigation leads him to former Michigan police chief Henry Osborne (Gleeson) and his adopted daughter Rebecca (Brit Marling). And oh yes, there’s also Ben’s prickly editor played by no less than Stanley Tucci.
Indeed, you can hardly go wrong with such a heavyweight cast, but Redford – working from Lem Dobbs’ adroitly penned screenplay – goes one step further, setting up the two separate groups of actors/ actresses shrewdly to portray generational differences. On one hand, Redford and the rest of the bench of older actors represent an older bygone era of fractious left-ist politics; while on the other, LaBeouf depicts both the fecklessness of the modern generation as well as the imperfections of today’s journalistic methods (e.g. how simply giving light to both sides of the story doesn’t automatically equate to fairness and balance). It’s interesting how the casting mirrors the dichotomy in these two narrative threads, and Redford’s method in pairing cast and character makes this actor-driven showcase even more compelling.
Yet Redford’s inspiration here goes far beyond great casting – instead, this latest sees the 76 year-old legend at his creative best in recent years. Marked by the preachy moral lectures ‘Lions for Lambs’ and ‘The Conspirator’, one can be forgiven for thinking that Redford had gotten too self-absorbed as a filmmaker. And yet with Gordon’s novel and Dobbs’ screenplay, Redford has found a more fitting vehicle to offer crowd-pleasing entertainment amid his left-leaning political outlook. To the casual viewer, this is a tense yet restrained thriller with a Hitchcockian feel; and to more discerning audiences, there are deeper reflections on the price of dissent and the costs and consequences of different forms of its expression.
Older viewers will also certainly draw comparison with a younger Redford’s own journalistic crusade in the 1976 classic ‘All the President’s Men’, and like that film, this one again dwells on the grey areas. The ambiguity makes for an even more intriguing time, whether in the form of exposition (kudos to both Redford and Sarandon for particularly thought-provoking moments) or in the form of deed (a point empathically brought across by Christie). Redford keeps the pace taut and brisk, but what truly makes the film so engaging is the excellent performances all around. If not for anything else, then watch this for the sheer joy of seeing veterans Redford, Sarandon, Nolte, Jenkins, Christie and Gleeson in the same movie. Oh yes, they are wonderful company indeed.
(A who’s who of venerable Hollywood actors make this Hitchcockian political thriller - which also happens to be Robert Redford's best film in a long while - a genuine thrill)
Review by Gabriel Chong