The Company You Keep Review


If there’s one thing to take away from Robert Redford’s The Company We Keep, it’s that few individuals keep better company than Redford. No film this year (unless, in the cast of Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, we’re counting the many great actors and actresses missing from the final cut) boasts a better cast—Redford, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Sam Elliott, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Terrence Howard, Anna Kendrick, and Stephen Root. If only their director and co-star gave them something better to work with…

The film also stars Shia LaBeouf (who’s dreadful) as a hungry young reporter at the Albany Sun Times. When a local housewife, Sharon Solarz (Sarandon), is arrested more than 30 years after she and her Weather Underground pals robbed a bank and accidentally killed a guard, LaBeouf’s Ben Shepard becomes engrossed in the case. How could this woman hide in plain sight all these years? And why in the world would she elect to turn herself in now?

His search for answers brings him to a lawyer named Jim Grant (Redford). He declines to hear Solarz’s case, which puzzles Shepard because it could be the case of a lifetime. It turns out Grant’s real name is Nick Sloan, and he was with Solarz at the bank in Michigan that fateful day.

A single older father of an 11-year-old girl, Grant goes on the run with both Shepard and the FBI (led by Terrence Howard’s Agent Cornelius) hot on his heels. His destination and intentions are unclear, but his journey takes him to the homes and workplaces of many fellow Weathermen—some of whom have renounced the old ways and a few, including Julie Christie’s Mimi, who retain that old revolutionary spirit.

Jim/Nick’s chase and Ben’s investigation occur independently from one another with the exception of scenes at the beginning and end of the picture. That means we have two threads competing for time, and one is infinitely more compelling than the other.

If I told you it was more interesting and enjoyable watching Robert Redford run around compared to Shia LaBeouf, would you be surprised? That isn’t even to say the Redford stuff is rock-solid. It’s a tad uneven, features some leaps in logic, and never quite hits the philosophical points Redford is striving for. That said, his scenes with Richard Jenkins and Nick Nolte are successful in that old-school thriller sort of way. As a director, Redford doesn’t care much about chases and other nonsense. His style is unapologetically unfussy, and it’s hard not to begrudgingly appreciate The Company You Keep at least a little for that aspect of the production alone.

But oh boy, the Shia LaBeouf stuff is simply atrocious. It’s time, filmmakers everywhere, to recognize the LaBeouf thing ain’t happening. All the horn-rimmed glasses in the world aren’t going to make this guy a credible, world-class journalist. He treats his interview subjects with no respect. No one in their right mind would ever talk to him. And somehow, someway, this punk (in mere days!) cracks a case the FBI couldn’t for more than 30 years.

Then, the genius decides, “What the hell, I might as well ask out the daughter of one of the keys to cracking the whole case.” Brit Marling is actually really good in a small role, though the way her important storyline turns out is unfortunate. LaBeouf’s involvement in her life is utterly unbelievable, and that Redford and screenwriter Lem Dobbs (of Haywire fame), who’s adapting a novel by Neil Gordon, ask us to accept it is insulting.

The rest of the cast is neither here nor there, and that’s basically what the film amounts to in the end. It’s the definition of forgettable, excepting of course LaBeouf’s unforgettably bad performance in an unforgettably bad role. I really tend to like Redford as a filmmaker. There’s something comforting about his approach and presence, both on and off the screen. But very little about The Company You Keep works. Its pedigree simply masks what’s ultimately a shallow, poorly conceived film.

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