In the late '60s I was a card-carrying member of the SDS - Students for a Democratic Society - and let me tell you, the emergence of the SDS splinter group that came to be known as the Weather Underground made my brain ache. It was tough enough trying to stop the war in Vietnam from the halls of Warren Central High School, especially with the dean of boys labeling me a communist for passing out anti-draft pamphlets to the other senior boys. Then the Weather Underground reared their heads, insisting that violent tactics were necessary to end the war and generally behaving like left-wing versions of the blockheads we were protesting.
Robert Redford directs and stars in The Company You Keep, an investigative drama involving a group of Weather Underground members and sympathizers being pursued in contemporary times over the killing of a security guard back in their activist days. Like most Redford-directed films (Ordinary People, A River Runs Through It, The Horse Whisperer, The Conspirator), it is reserved in tone, even during heated moments. The movie starts off strong, but becomes predictable and contrived towards the end. Barely serviceable as a mystery, it works better as a showcase for an impressive group of older actors.
In addition to 76-year-old Redford, The Company You Keep showcases Susan Sarandon (age 66), Julie Christie (72), Nick Nolte (72), Chris Cooper (61), Brendan Gleeson (58), Stephen Root (61) and Sam Elliott (68). The pre-AARP crowd is represented by Shia LaBeouf, Anna Kendrick, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci and Jackie Evancho. The older group is uniformly fine, even though most of their roles demand they carry themselves somberly. Oh, does this movie scream for a burst or two of unreserved joy. The rest of the cast delivers as well, though I wonder whether Shia LaBeouf is annoying as part of his character or if he's just doing what comes naturally.
Redford plays Jim Grant, a lawyer raising his 11-year-old daughter (Evancho) in an Albany suburb when his past comes back to bite him. After Weather Underground fugitive Sharon Solarz (Sarandon) gets popped by the FBI shortly before she was going to turn herself in, the case draws the attention of the press, specifically Ben Shepard (LaBeouf), a reporter that is viewed with distain by Redford's character for his opportunistic approach to his craft. Shepard soon uncovers the fact that Redford's character is really Nick Sloan, a Weather Underground fugitive who used to look like the Sundance Kid. Jim/Nick takes off - to assume a new identity or perhaps to clear his name - with Ben the reporter investigating his fanny off and the FBI - embodied by Howard - playing catch up.
I was entertained and reasonably engaged by the movie, but the production never takes flight. It's too studied, too bloodless, and a key plot twist isn't very surprising (hint: when a movie provides a seemingly needless detail like "She's my second wife" you can rest assured the fact will be revealed to be important). Want to see a good movie about radicals and repercussions? Watch Running on Empty. Want to see a parade of well-regarded older actors in a solid, unspectacular story? Here you go.