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The Company You Keep
Left to right: Robert Redford as Jim Grant and Jackie Evancho as Isabel Grant. Photo by Doane Gregory, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Movie Review: The Company You Keep

Robert Redford returns to the big screen as the star, producer and director of “The Company You Keep.” SIDEWALKS’ Jeanne has her take on this political action thriller.

The Company You Keep

Left to right: Robert Redford as Jim Grant and Jackie Evancho as Isabel Grant. Photo by Doane Gregory, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Rated R
Running Time: 125 min


Cast: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Brit Marling, Stanley Tucci, with Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, and Susan Sarandon

Studio Synopsis:
Jim Grant (Robert Redford) is a public interest lawyer and single father raising his daughter in the tranquil suburbs of Albany, New York. Grant’s world is turned upside down, when a brash young reporter named Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) exposes his true identity as a former 1970s antiwar radical fugitive wanted for murder. After living for more than 30 years underground, Grant must now go on the run. With the FBI in hot pursuit, he sets off on a cross-country journey to track down the one person that can clear his name.

Shepard knows the significance of the national news story he has exposed and, for a journalist, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. Hell-bent on making a name for himself, he is willing to stop at nothing to capitalize on it. He digs deep into Grant’s past. Despite warnings from his editor and threats from the FBI, Shepard relentlessly tracks Grant across the country.

As Grant reopens old wounds and reconnects with former members of his antiwar group, the Weather Underground, Shepard realizes something about this man is just not adding up. With the FBI closing in, Shepard uncovers the shocking secrets Grant has been keeping for the past three decades. As Grant and Shepard come face to face in the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, they each must come to terms with who they really are.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UELonDEqAMw’]
The Company You Keep

Left to right: Brit Marling as Rebecca Osborne and Shia LaBeouf as Ben Shepard. Photo by Doane Gregory, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Jeanne’s Take:
Robert Redford is back with a film we have been awaiting since the last Weather Underground activist came in from the cold at the end of the Carter administration. I do not mean to imply they all came in – only the ones who were tired of living a double life (Cathy Wilkerson in 1980), or who were caught in the commission of a crime (Kathy Boudin in 1981).

This political thriller about activists from the “days of rage” period is directed by Redford with a screenplay by Lem Dobbs. Neil Gordon wrote the novel on which the film is based. The script most likely was inspired by the disastrous 1981 Brinks robbery in New York in which three members of law enforcement died; Cathy Boudin and David Gilbert were among those arrested. During their imprisonment, their child was adopted by radicals Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. And Ayers went on, years later, to become a friend of Barack Hussein Obama in another state.

As an influential actor, director, film producer and advocate for the environment, Redford had his pick of actors to bring to life the subterranean radicals in Gordon’s novel, and he has brought a brilliant cast to this film.

Redford plays attorney Jim Grant (former radical Nick Sloan), a recent widower who lives quietly with his young daughter (Jackie Evancho). Shia LaBeouf is an irritatingly aggressive journalist for a small-town newspaper, intent on getting a Pulitzer (so he can keep his job). These radicals, who suddenly are news again when Sarandon surrenders, were active before he was born. He smells a story and chases it without regard for consequences. “Do you have children?” Sarandon asks him during their jailhouse interview. “No,” he says, “I barely have furniture.”

Julie Christie is an unrepentant leftist and sailor, using her boat to run marijuana across the border under the eyes of the Coast Guard. After all, she can’t be a threat because she’s just an old woman, right? Susan Sarandon is a homemaker and well-loved wife with a perfect suburban life, along with a secret she no longer wishes to keep. Chris Cooper is Jim Grant’s brother, reluctant to be involved in Grant’s crisis, but family is family. And Terrence Howard is perfect as the ambitious FBI supervisor, determined to get on top of this aging revolutionaries business, to finally bring in …somebody, so the feds won’t look so incompetent. He is relentless, and he has technology the FBI did not have back in the day, when the Weathermen spun off from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and later became the notorious Weather Underground.

Sam Elliott, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Stephen Root, Susan Hogan, and Nick Nolte round out the stellar cast of veteran activists who successfully live like your neighbors next door, who are the neighbors next door. They have kept each other’s secrets for such a long time now, never getting in touch until it was absolutely necessary. Some are willing to help Jim Grant; others rebuff him in fear for their own carefully crafted lives.

The Company You Keep

Susan Sarandon as Sharon Solarz. Photo by Doane Gregory, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

“The Company You Keep” is a well-paced political thriller as well as a morality play. What do you know about your neighbor next door? How long can someone live a lie? Is any act justified if the cause is righteous enough? And what about the people who have to pay for your mistakes – the bank guard who died in the botched Brinks robbery, for example? So many secrets, and what does an arrogant young journalist know or care about secrets?

Redford shows us many tricks as the fugitive with multiple ID and cell phones, and who knows how to blend in a crowd, but there is something odd about the way he is running. Where is he going, and why? The suspense caused by his mysterious journey carries the film.

In addition to the grieving families who lost loved ones when bank robberies went awry, there are the children of the radicals – the ones they raised and the ones they gave to others for safety reasons. Sarandon turns herself in because of her children. Grant has to put his young daughter in safe hands before going on the run. And there are others…

For a while now there has been a need to revisit this subject in American consciousness, and not simply whenever the FBI has an arrestee in tow. We have Marge Piercy’s superb novel, VIDA, containing incredible detail about that period; Piercy was at University of Michigan with Tom Hayden; Hayden wrote the first draft of the Port Huron Statement for the SDS. There is the excellent novel, DOWNRIVER, written by Peter Collier before his right-wing days. And there is a haunting memoir by a young FBI agent, one of the first to be sent deep underground and who illegally operated in Canada . He never got into the inner circle of the Weather Underground which by then was run entirely by women, but the experience affected him so deeply that he resigned and went to live in the mountains, not unlike some combat veterans from the war in Vietnam.

In the wake of an unprecedented number of American political assassinations in the 1960s, there arose several significant political and social movements – civil rights activity, and opposition to the military draft and colonial wars among others. This period also included the development of revolutionary movements around the world as a direct result of rising expectations after World War II. The radicalization of thousands of youth from comfortable and even wealthy families on every continent should not have been such a surprise; but apparently it was. See also Cathy Wilkerson’s FLYING CLOSE TO THE SUN and Susan Braudy’s FAMILY CIRCLE (concerning Kathy Boudin) about the company they kept.

An excellent accomplishment by Robert Redford, on a subject which has needed a good film for a long time.

“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.” – historian Howard Zinn

About Jeanne Powell

Jeanne Powell is a poet and short story writer, who teaches in a summer program for teens. Her most recent books are "My Own Silence" and "Word Dancing," available online and through booksellers. She also hosts spoken word events in San Francisco, and covers cultural happenings for online media.