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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 19, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 16
Good company - Robert Redford's latest directorial effort is familiar yet entertaining
Arts & Entertainment
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Good company - Robert Redford's latest directorial effort is familiar yet entertaining

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
Opens April 19


Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) has been arrested. Thirty years after her involvement in the robbery of a Michigan bank that led to the death of a guard, the former Weather Underground operative, now living as a suburban wife and mother, has found herself in handcuffs, FBI Special Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) showcasing intense pride in taking her into custody.

Thing is, she was on her way to turn herself in, having decided it was time to meet with the authorities and discuss just how involved she was in the actual robbery. What she did not expect was that young journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), at the urging of his beleaguered editor, Ray Fuller (Stanley Tucci), would be drawn to her story like a dog in heat. Understanding the value of what the chronicling of her capture could mean for his career, knowing how it could skyrocket him into the national consciousness if he could somehow ascertain the whereabouts of her supposed co-conspirators, the reporter starts digging like mad, discovering half-truths he hurriedly fleshes out into complete stories long before full understanding is gained.

Enter public-interest lawyer Jim Grant (Robert Redford). His younger wife recently deceased, the single father of 12-year-old Isabel (Jackie Evancho) knows he is about to be forced to make a major sacrifice. Calling the brother (Chris Cooper) he promised never to embroil in his complicated past mistakes, he leaves the girl in his care as he races into the wilderness to right a wrong he had long hoped would be forgotten. With time running out, and with Ben doggedly on his tail, Jim is on a collision course to discover the whereabouts of his ex, Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), the truths about their complicated relationship the key to discovering just what happened at the Michigan bank three decades prior.

MEDIA MATTERS
Based on the novel by Neil Gordon and with a screenplay by Lem Dobbs (Haywire, The Limey), Redford's latest directorial enterprise is a very '70s-style political thriller that goes out of its way to comment on the current state of American journalism. On that front, the filmmaker eviscerates what he sees as too much corporate interference coupled with youthful malaise engineered by social media and the pressure to be first to report a story no matter what (even if the story is inaccurate). If the protagonists of All the President's Men are the pinnacle of journalistic ethics, The Company You Keep's Ben Shepard is an energetic lost, if smart, lamb trapped in a barren pasture of his own design, his eagerness to be popular inadvertently subverting his intellectual drive for the truth.

As for the other story, similarities to the Redford-starring Sneakers aside, it's pretty straightforward, and for all the star cameos (Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Richard Jenkins, Brit Marling, Brendan Gleeson, Anna Kendrick, and Stephen Root filling key supporting roles) it isn't exactly a surprise where any of this is headed. Grant's journey is a familiar one, and while his ultimate reasons for seeking out Mimi are a bit interesting, it's not exactly a shock if the viewer has put the pieces together long before their climactic conversation ever takes place.

While the portion of the film commenting on today's standards of journalism can be on the heavy-handed side, and while the actual suspense-thriller-mystery sections are too familiar, all the same I found myself enjoying The Company You Keep. Redford's confident, effortless handling of this material is moderately impressive, and where some of his recent efforts haven't exactly made the grade (The Conspirator, The Legend of Bagger Vance) or lived up to expectations (Lions for Lambs), this one comes remarkably close to doing so even with a few important elements working decidedly against it.

AWESOME CASTING
It helps that the cast is aces across the board. Better, Dobbs has given them all something interesting to play, and even if their screen time is brief all of them manage to give their respective characters a memorable trait giving them dimensionality easy to respond to - and, in most cases, relate to. On top of that, both Grant and Shepard are worthy protagonists, each of them not what they initially appear with both Redford and LaBeouf diving in making them come to life with a complex electric vitality I couldn't resist.

The Company You Keep is far from perfect, and I think with maybe one more rewrite Dobbs could have crafted something that rose to the same heights as his work for Stephen Soderbergh has in the past. Still, thanks to expert craftsmanship (as always, the director/star has assembled a crackerjack technical team, the movie looking and sounding terrific) and solid performances by all involved, I enjoyed the film. While not as prescient as it thinks it is, or as twisty as the filmmakers hoped, the tale intelligently being spun remains a solid one, and, as old-school political thrillers go, Redford has done a reasonably good job that many will happily be satisfied with.

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