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.