The Company You Keep
Actor/director Robert Redford was a 40 yr. old Hollywood superstar when he played a crusading journalist opposite Dustin Hoffman in All The President’s Men. Three and a half decades later, Redford directs himself (and a host of veteran actors) in this examination of the violent 60’s radicals who became known as the Weathermen. But in this outing, the newspaper reporter out to make a name for himself isn’t Redford, but Shia LaBeouf and the motivations behind the latter’s tenacious efforts to “get the story” are a disturbing mixture of cynicism and glory hunting.
Essentially a two-hour chase movie, Company examines the plight of Jim Grant, practicing lawyer, widower and father of an 11-year-old daughter as his life implodes. He’s contacted by Ben Sheppard (LaBeouf) following the arrest of an aging terrorist (Susan Sarandon) implicated in a Michigan bank robbery decades earlier that resulted in the death of a policeman. Various members of the group involved in that armed robbery where never located and as Sheppard begins to tease out the shadowy relationships behind Sarandon’s radical-turned-housewife, Grant finds himself the subject of considerable unwanted scrutiny. As he dissembles in front of his daughter and the increasingly skeptical reporter who’s making his life a nightmare, it becomes evident that Grant may not be all he appears to be; or perhaps, something quite a bit more...
Redford’s no newcomer behind the camera; with nearly a dozen directorial credits to his name including Ordinary People, A River Runs Through It, Quiz Show and The Horse Whisperer, he moves screenwriter Lem Dobbs’ complex script through its paces, delivering a well-elaborated examination of a man leading a double life who’s suddenly forced on the run as a fugitive from the F.G.I. As Grant carefully contacts Sarandon’s group of former radicals, he explores their feelings about what drove them to violent protest then and how they justify it now. With a cast including Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, Chris Cooper and Stanley Tucci among others, Company makes some trenchant observations about how easy it is to rationalize past events and one’s responsibility for them.
As the cocky journalist, LaBeouf finally moves his career beyond the bubblegum roles (Transformers 1,2 & 3, Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom) that have made him a box-office attraction with the teenage set. Sheppard’s a clever but shallow smartass and the actor does an excellent job of delivering the portrait of someone doing the right thing for any number of wrong reasons. To his credit, LaBoeuf’s performance teases out the motivations of his character in a refreshingly self-effacing manner and it’s interesting that Redford has chosen this vehicle to juxtapose the dark side of journalistic perseverance with his own heroic portrayal of it in the events surrounding Watergate.
Despite its intriguing premise and the crisply-paced course of Grant’s efforts to elude authorities, director Redford yields to actor Redford’s need for a sympathetic denouement, turning what could have been a biting commentary on current journalistic principles and the re-writing of history into a melodrama with unnecessary plot twists and a oh-so-predictable ending. But then, isn’t that Hollywood for you?
The Verdict? Great premise, gripping first reel – then the predictable slide to a safe ending punctuated with a host of familiar Hollywood faces. You can wait for this one to emerge on video and then compare how well members of this star-studded cast have handled the inevitable task of growing old.
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