The Company You Keep Review: A Tidy Political Thriller for the Olds
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The Company You Keep Review: A Tidy Political Thriller for the Olds

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film Reviews | April 9, 2013 | Comments ()


The Company You Keep is a tidy, well composed drama that wraps mystery around political thrills and remains mildly exciting for the better part of two hours. Directed by Robert Redford, the film stars Redford as a lawyer with a mysterious past, who finds himself caught up in a court case against a woman, played by Susan Surandon, who was part of a radical terrorism movement in the '70s. When she's suddenly caught by the FBI after planning to turn herself in, a young newspaper reporter, played by Shia La Beooueouf, finds himself overrun with questions he just can't get answers to. What ensues is a chase through time, memory and regret as one man attempts to make a name for himself even as another man attempts to lose his notoriety.

As a director, Redford doesn't seem to have any signature moves. There's nothing that would tip one off to the fact that this is a Redford-directed effort, though he comes off far better as an actor than fellow actor/directors. Redford is still the star of the film, though it is perhaps still his directing of actors, particularly in scenes that he does not appear in, that shines. One particular scene between LaBeoueeouef and Sarandon is filled with the type of acting so powerful you're lost in the subtlety of it. To make such moments feel effortless is the work of a fine director, and the entire film feels effortless throughout. This is a kind of curse, really. To be so good at something it becomes invisible to the audience. The Company You Keep is certainly not a perfect film by any means, but upon reflection, there's very little to dislike about the movie.

Since there's slow reveals throughout, I'll not spoil them by saying who plays what, suffice it to say the film is filled with wonderful actors in all roles. From smaller moments with Sam Elliott, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte and Brendan Gleeson, to the larger roles of Julie Christie and Chris Cooper. Everyone here is exceptionally good with the exception of the actress who plays the daughter, Jackie Evancho. The interactions between Redford and Evancho seem exceptionally forced and awkward, but this is her first film and I think she really is about 11, so slack is being given. Tightening up this one aspect would have elevated the rest of the film, but, again, it's hardly fair to expect an 11-year-old to hold her own against some of the most talented actors in cinematic history. Brit Marling appears, like an angel sent from heaven. While Marling tends to excel best in films she wrote, she's getting better with every ulterior project she takes on. Even LaBeoeoouf appears to be coming into his own, and as a snappy, fast-talkin' paper man he even earned a few laughs and garnered a few of the most fascinating scenes.

(A short list of technology Shia LeBeoueauf uses in the film: Dell laptop, Apple computer, PC desktop, Google Maps, Google, microfiche, typing co-ordinates into a .txt box, hand-held gps of some sort, digital recorder.)

The Company You Keep is rated R for language, but my desiccated mind is really having a hard time remembering any swearing or the like, though it must be there. Other than that, the film is clean as a whistle, no sex or violence to speak of, though we do get to see a scene where it's heavily implied by Redford's half-naked body that he slept with someone. That caused a bit of a stir in the theater I was at, which was filled almost completely with older folks, which made me realize a bit of the genius of the film, filled with aging actors and a politically hip but not particularly liberal or conservative plot.

This aging population wants to see films like this. Nothing too wild, familiar faces and a plot that harkens back to their own idealistic days while dealing with modern concerns. What I initially wrote off as a slightly boring thriller, I came to realize that this film wasn't made for me. The Company You Keep isn't the type of movie you'll necessarily ever want to see again, there's no obvious lessons to be learned in filmmaking, no noticeably wild cinematography or fantastical costuming or beautiful sets. Instead, at every turn, there's tidy and serviceable dialogue from faces you'll recognize and a plot that won't make anyone mad. It's a movie-movie, the kind they used to make before things had to get inventive to draw audiences in, and it's engaging at times, a little slow at others, a bit obvious now and then, but enjoyable all the same.

At times the focus seemed particularly soft on Redford's craggy face, the one bit of potential vanity in a film that attempted honesty. After all, it can't be easy to look back over the years at your own face, frozen forever in living motion on some of the biggest films in history. For Redford, and for many of these actors, there's no idle wondering where the years went. There is only the evidence of time spent, playing out eternally on screens, recalled in an instant. There's a kind of quiet, comfortable respect throughout this film. No one's going for a showy, Oscar-winning performance. No one's marking their territory. For once, there's a kind of cease fire, a quiet recognition of talent and an unspoken agreement to continue on, together.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Ehkzu

    re: Jackie Evancho's "awkward" acting

    It may be that the reviewer here expects Hollywood Child Acting, where kids behave like scaled-down adults. In an interview Redford said he auditioned hundreds of such children, all highly trained, and he found them to be, essentially, artificial life forms. He didn't hire Evancho until the last minute, and only because he accidentally saw her sing on America's Got Talent.
    If you saw Scarlett Johannson's very understated performance in "Horse Whisperer" you'll know that Redford wants kids to act like kids in his movies--not little adults.
    I'm just speculating here, but I wonder whether this reviewer wasn't comparing Evancho's performance to real life, but rather to the formalisms of Hollywood. In the 30s most Hollywood actors affected a sort of English accent, which now seems laughable. It may be that current Kid Acting schtick will seem equally formalistic to future generations.

  • Ehkzu

    re: whether Jackie Evancho is a dog walking on hind legs example or something truly special,
    The TV magazine 20/20 on ABC devoted a segment to her that you can find on YouTube. Just search on "Jackie Evancho 20/20"--it's the first thing that comes up. It includes an interview with a voice specialist at Carnegie Mellon who said that she was in fact a genius, as opposed to a prodigy, though he was only speaking to her talent at musical interpretation. But most genius is specialized.
    You can understand her interpretive genius better if you learn about aspects of voice such as portamento, tone, pitch, phrasing, vibrato, breath control--stuff like that. In her field, called "classical crossover" she currently either equals or exceeds other CC singers in these areas, and in particular has an authenticity that takes you into the song. Many singers want you to admire their singing instead, but she doesn't do that, rarely even smiling as she sings (as Charlotte Church always did, regardless of the song's subject).

  • Buck Forty

    This is a trick, right? A trick to draw out all the older Pajibans, get us all riled up and shaking our walking sticks in your general direction? Well, I'm not falling for it.

  • Gill R

    Harumpf. Seems to me that rather than say that the olds want to see films like this, you should be saying that the youngs can't be arsed to watch films that don't have lots of sex, violence and action scenes. Makes as much sense.

    I'm not sure what your definition of "old" is - though, sadly, I expect it's a whole generation younger than me - but please Pajiba, don't stoop to writing of us in tis disparaging manner.

  • Buck Forty

    Yes, yes, yes, YESSSSS!!

  • ,

    "it’s hardly fair to expect an 11-year-old to hold her own against some of the most talented actors in cinematic history."

    Wait ... didn't they just (absurdly) nominate a 6-year-old as best supporting actress or best actress or some such stupidity? Jackie, whose sole claim to fame is being able to sing well for an 11-year-old*, is almost twice as old. Why can't we hold her to a high standard?

    Don't overstep your bounds, Pittsburgh girl. You can take the girl out of Yinzerville but ...

    *--Actually, Jackie just turned 13. I mean really, JUST turned 13. Her birthday is April 9. I haven't really seen the answer to the question: Is she a singing prodigy, is she REALLY good, or is she just good for a child? Is she a perfect example of "Dog Walking on its Hind Legs" syndrome?

  • Friday Bridge

    YouTube could answer your question. Search on 'Jackie Evancho Bridge Over Troubled Water". This give you the opportunity to make up your own mind.

    When she was 11, she had a great voice for a kid. Now, she's 13, and has a great voice, period.

  • e jerry powell

    I'm an old bitch, Amanda Mae, and don't you forget it.

  • Phat girl

    Oh please, I'm 44 not 100. Just because you are a child mentally does not make me an "olds". I can use all of the same technology that Shia LaBeowolf does and still appreciate this movie. I am a fan of Tina Fey, The Hamm dong and of kids staying off of my lawn. Which means I am young enough to appreciate modern culture and old enough to know what I like. It does not qualify me for medicaid or the AARP, thank you very much. So stuff your "olds" talk in a sock missy and stick to picking on people your own age, that is if you can get them to put down their remotes long enough to take their ADHD meds and actually listen. Harumph.

  • TenaciousJP

    "typing co-ordinates into a .txt box"

    Was this a joke that went sailing over my head, or is Amanda one of the "olds" that will see this movie?

  • BWeaves

    ". . . played by Shia La Beooueouf" I just lost interest.

    Actually, I am old, and I refuse to watch "Robert Redford directed (TM)" films. They are usually BORING. (See The Natural, or The Milagro Beanfield Wars, snore.) He's fine as an actor, but I don't like him as a director.

    Actually, he's not fine as an actor. He was damn fine to look at when he was young, but he seems to affect a certain character trait and then it gets annoying. There was one movie, I can't remember which one, where he roughed up his hair with his hands, and I thought, "I bet he does that through the entire movie," and he did. I should have made it a drinking game, but I didn't want to die of alcohol poisoning.

  • ,

    Man, I think now I've got to watch "Three Days of the Condor" again.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    He really was spectacular in his youth.

  • e jerry powell

    Welcome to the entertainment industry, dearest.

    Has it even been any other way?

    But it does my heart good to look at him.

  • Wednesday

    Why do you assume that the "olds" want to see this film? It sounds pretty damn forgettable to me.

    It's not all Golden Girls re-runs and remembering to take your Metamucil once you stumble out of your thirties. Even the olds need a reason to plop down their money for a movie after the 4:30 rush at Old Country Buffet lets out.

  • PaddyDog

    Yeah, gotta add my voice to Wednesday's here. This review reminds me a little of the PBS show where three people review the same restaurant and the hip, younger person always pans a place with great food because the crowd was old. I'm not suggesting this is a great film, but deciding the "olds" don't want good stuff is a little immature.

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