The Company You Keep is a slow, even-keeled drama that comes to life with one of the most incredible casts assembled in recent memory.
In light of this week’s bombings in Boston, The Company You Keep now carries with it a new level of relevance. What makes terrorists tick? What happens when youthful idealism is carried to an extreme - and accountability is evaded for decades?
Those questions are at the heart of The Company You Keep, which is based on Neil Gordon’s 2003 novel. There are too many questions still to be answered regarding those two Chechnyan immigrants and their grudge against the United States to draw anything more than a very high level intersection, but it most certainly is something to consider. The Civil War, the violence of the Mafia, and the increasing frequency of unhinged citizens acting out to destructive ends are all part of the runaway train of American history. Maybe we’ve never really been as safe as we’d like to remember.
In The Company You Keep, the terrorists are members of the left-wing Weather Underground, a group which sought to bring the Vietnam war stateside in order to force it to a close. At least that was one of the driving factors behind their heinous tactics. The story here revolves around a murder during a Weathermen bank robbery back in the early 1970s and the repercussions of justice left unserved.
Talk of the Times
During a recent Times Talks discussion conducted between New York Times columnist David Carr and the movie’s lead stars, Robert Redford and Shia LaBeouf, Redford noted that the story is, in a small way, similar to Les Miserables. In this case, Redford assumes the role of Jean Valjean by way of Jim Grant, a former member of the Weather Underground who’s kept a low profile which continuing on with his life, ironically enough, as a lawyer. Taking Inspector Javert’s place is Ben Shepard (LaBeouf, Lawless), a young and hungry reporter trying to tie disparate puzzle pieces together in the wake of another Underground member’s arrest.
That member, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon, Snitch), chills the room with her icy demeanor when Ben questions her about her involvement in the movement. It’s a deftly-performed scene with the two actors at the top of their game.
Ben is tenacious and pulls whatever frazzled strings might be at his disposal in order to get to the bottom of the story. This movie puts the real profession of journalism in a badly-needed positive light. This is investigative journalism, not the constant drone of talking heads trying to fill out a 24-hour news cycle or a mouthpiece publication in need of another bunch of words. Of course director/actor Redford’s no stranger to this territory; he did, after all, make a little movie called All the President’s Men a while back.
A couple big, expensive action movies recently released, Olympus Has Fallen and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, were notable for the A-list casts attached to D-grade storytelling. Here, it’s a happy mix of megawatt star power and thoughtful plotting.
This movie is over-stuffed with stars and it’s fantastic to behold. Redford and Sarandon naturally top the list. But the scene stealer is that upstart kid, sometimes plastered across the media for some questionable behaviors and comments, Shia LaBeouf. He’s good. Really good. And he holds his own as the inquisitive young journalist who questions the likes of Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, and Terrence Howard, as well as Redford and Sarandon. Other co-stars include Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, and Stanley Tucci.
Even the supporting members are cast with careful consideration, with rising star Brit Marling (Another Earth) in a pivotal role and Jackie Evancho, perhaps best known as the little girl with the huge, immaculate singing voice on recordings such as O Holy Night, cast as Redford’s daughter.
But, once again, LaBeouf is the real surprise here. He’s fun to watch and it’s fun to see him interact - from the angle of a journalist trying to eek out tidbits of information - whether it be in a flirtatious manner or via a more direct, searching series of questions.
Ben learns his job as a journalist carries with it responsibility that impacts numerous lives at an assortment of levels. As Jim embarks on a cross-country trek to clear his name, Ben’s efforts can either assist in discovering the truth or keep secrets forever buried.
This is a movie to savor. The talent involved is enormous, but this is a small, intimate drama that requires an attention span more demanding than those big, explosive - and vacuous - action flicks.