Movie Review: The Company You Keep
By Matthew Huntley
April 23, 2013

It's like rubbing leather and sawdust.

Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep is a complex, all-star thriller stockpiled with a lot of characters (and subsequently a lot of character actors) that ultimately believes it’s more important than it really is. It laboriously segues from one scene to the next, always developing its thick plot while introducing new people into it. A movie like this could be fun and entertaining to follow, but Redford manages to makes his a bit of a bore. As the story progresses, the tension and intrigue lessen because too much time is taken out to bring the audience up to speed after each development (and there are a lot of developments), which brings the momentum to a halt. By the end, we have to remind ourselves we’re supposed to care about the outcome.

Perhaps one of the reasons the movie thinks it’s significant is because a handful of characters are former members of the Weather Underground Organization, an activist group that formed in 1969 to overthrow the United States government in response to America’s role in the Vietnam War. The Weathermen, as they became known, instigated violence and terrorism domestically as a means to expose and mirror what the government was doing in Southeast Asia at the time.

But the movie only uses the Weathermen aspect to drive the plot, not necessarily to make a relevant statement. We learn about them and their actions through the newsreel footage - some real, some fabricated - that opens the movie, including a bank robbery that resulted in the death of a security guard. This latter event ties into the present day, when one of the Weathermen, Sharon Solaz (Susan Sarandon), who’s been on the FBI’s most wanted list for over 30 years, intentionally gets herself arrested. Her capture raises a lot of eyebrows, including those of Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), a young, hotshot reporter for a struggling Albany newspaper. Ben and his paper initially miss out on Sharon’s arrest story, but he tells his boss (Stanley Tucci) that his former friend at the FBI (Anna Kendrick) might be able to give him a lead on an even bigger national story related to it.

Ben’s investigation brings him to Jim Grant (Robert Redford), an attorney and single parent of an 11-year-old daughter named Isabel (Jackie Evancho), whom the movie does a good job of making us believe is Ben’s pride and joy. When Jim and Sharon’s mutual friend Billy (Stephen Root) discloses to Shepard that Jim refused to take on Sharon’s case, Shepard finds this peculiar and thinks something isn’t completely right about this guy.

He would be correct, because Jim Grant isn’t who he says he is; he’s actually Nick Sloan, another Weatherman who’s been hiding under his current name for decades because he’s wanted in connection with the aforementioned bank robbery killing. When Shepard’s story about Grant breaks, Grant leaves Isabel with his brother (Chris Cooper) and begins a cross-country trip in search of Mimi (Julie Christie), his former lover and fellow activist who can prove he had nothing to do with it, except that it would mean turning herself in. As Grant searches for her, Shepard tries to follow him as best he can, delving deeper into Grant’s past and attempting to put the entire timeline and puzzle together. He comes to the conclusion that Grant’s current actions don’t make sense if he was a guilty man.

What Grant’s actions are and with whom he makes contact make up the bulk of The Company You Keep, but rather than list them all out, I’ll just say the movie is heavy on dialogue and features many talented and well-known actors in addition to the ones I’ve already named, including Terrence Howard, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson and Brit Marling. To be fair, Redford utilizes his thespian resources well, but Lem Dobbs’ screenplay, based on the novel by Neil Gordon, is so expositional and rife with functional-only dialogue, we can’t quite make an emotional connection or vested interest in it. And even though Redford makes for a likable hero, I found him too stoic and detached in the lead role. With his character’s freedom and daughter at stake, he never convinced me he was truly afraid of what he might lose, which made it harder to empathize with him.

As it stands, the story within The Company You Keep is an interesting one, but the way Redford adapts it to film has it come off as dry and impertinent. Even the thriller tactics he employs - Grant seeing his own “wanted” face on TV in a public setting; the FBI pinpointing his cell phone to his exact location and Grant escaping in just the nick of time; the obligatory decoys and chase sequences–have been done before and have no substantive effect here. In the end, despite all the actors giving their respective characters presence, The Company You keep seems for nothing because it doesn’t become compelling or suspenseful enough for us to really care about it.