Movie Review: The Company You Keep
Length: 125 minutes
Release Date: Apr. 5, 2013
Directed by: Robert Redford
Stars: 3 out of 5
"The Company You Keep" is a movie about former members of the Weather Underground who find themselves unable to leave the past behind. Jim Grant (Robert Redford) is a public interest lawyer in New York who finds himself on the run after Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), a former member of the Weather Underground, is arrested for her role as the ringleader of a Michigan bank robbery committed in the '70s.
Local reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) tries to use the story as his ticket to national fame and, on receiving inside info from his ex-girlfriend, an FBI agent, suspects that Jim's past may be the reason behind his reluctance to defend Sharon. Jim, now targeted by both the media and the law, decides to make a run for it, taking his eleven-year-old daughter (Jackie Evancho) with him.
Jim's attempt to overcome his past and save his name, as the law chases him down and the media ruthlessly attempts to prove that he also a member of the gang that committed the robbery, takes up the rest of the movie. Robert Redford, who directed and played the lead role in the movie, has done a good job of portraying not only a man who wants to clear his name but also a father who knows that his daughter's future is linked to this desperate attempt to prove his innocence.
The story, despite focusing on a bygone era by highlighting the innocence and idealism of the '60s, strikes a chord with the audience. Redford has done a creditable job of choosing the right cast, with acclaimed figures such as Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Sam Elliott, and Richard Jenkins, doing a great job portraying aged individuals who accept their past mistakes but still stand by the reasoning that caused them to commit those acts in the first place.
One cannot help notice the ironic difference between the initial robbery and resulting murder, committed by passionate and idealistic youngsters, and reporter Ben's ruthless, cynical, and selfish attempts to expose a person he suspects of having participated in the crime.
Redford does not yield to the temptation of focusing the entire movie on his character's tribulations. Instead, he gives the audience a peek into the students' movement of the '60s by letting Sharon Solarz defend her actions to the unsympathetic FBI agents. Sarandon shines in this sequence and manages to convey both the pride and shame that she feels about the crime she committed.
The movie manages to keep the attention of the audience focused on the screen as Jim, after fooling the law enforcement authorities into thinking that he has escaped to Canada, travels to California to meet the only person whose testimony can save him. The person, his ex-lover, then discovers that saving the person she loved would also involve confessing her illicit marijuana smuggling activities.
The movie does not rely on the twists and turns in the plot to retain the interest of the audience. Jim's plight is moving even as the audience struggles to rationalize the actions of those who were involved in the robbery and the security guard's murder. The audience is never allowed to forget that Jim's struggle is not just about his dignity but also affects the fate and future of his sole family member. True to his reputation, Redford, instead of relying solely on a convoluted plot, deftly creates shades of grey in all of his characters to weave a sense of thrill and anticipation throughout the movie.
LaBeouf manages to convey his character's ambitions without coming across as a caricature of a hard-nosed and cynical journalist. It is easy to identify with his earnest desire to see that justice is served as long as he benefits from the process. However, he certainly comes across as a bad guy when compared to older characters who fought for what they thought was right.
The feel-good ending may seem like a tame affair for some. Everybody finally does what is right, leaving Jim free to clear his name and get back to life with his daughter. However, the audience is left with the realization that that things cannot ever truly go back to normal for Jim. The director's message is clearly that it is impossible to outrun the past and that every person has to face the consequences of past actions and decisions in one form or another.