Coming at a time where national news outlets aren't exactly the most trusted sources in the ridiculous race to land the so-called exclusive, the dramatic thriller "The Company You Keep" is a fascinating tale that leaves you pining for real, respectable investigative journalism that makes a difference. Directed by and starring the venerable Robert Redford, the film daringly recalls a day when cerebral movies weren't so risky to make.
Redford stars as Jim Grant, a successful public interest lawyer and single parent raising his young daughter ("America's Got Talent" singer Jackie Evancho) in Albany, N.Y. Living a lie, however, Grant's real name is Nick Sloan, one of four members from the radical, antiwar organization The Weather Underground, who are wanted for the murders of a bank guard in the 1970s.
Operating under the radar for more than 30 years, Grant starts to feel the heat when the FBI ferrets out one of the fugitives, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), who was living under the guise as a married housewife.
Rocked by the developments, an astute investigative reporter, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), is pressured to produce a big story to soothe tensions with his newspaper editor. Using all his available contacts and resources, Ben puts the puzzle pieces together to discover Grant's true identity, leading to a chase where the former radical is trying to find inner peace and redemption.
See the trailer for "The Company You Keep" below.
What makes "The Company You Keep" particularly fascinating is how the story is framed within a real-life, historical context. The Weather Underground was a real-life, violent radical left organization founded at the Ann Arbor campus at the University of Michigan more than 40 years ago, and its history lends the film some compelling dramatic credence.
(Even while the book's author Neil Gordon asserts the story is fiction, Sarandon's character feels awfully close to former Symbionese Liberation Army member Kathleen Ann Soliah, who went into hiding for 23 years and was finally arrested while living under the alias of Minnesota housewife Sarah Jane Olson.).
While Sarandon is terrific as usual in "The Company You Keep," she's one of many great actors who appear in the film's smaller, but pivotal roles. With Redford at the helm, he not only attracted the likes of Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard and Tucci to join the film, but gets the best their talents have to offer. The same goes for the youngsters in the cast -- LaBeouf, Evancho, Anna Kendrick and Brit Marling -- who all deliver solid performances.
While LaBeouf stars in the lead, "The Company You Keep" really belongs to Redford, who, like many times before, proves his vast talents in front of and behind the camera. It's amazing to watch Redford's flawless symmetry at work, first playing as a character with so many uncertainties; then, as a director who doesn't tip his hand to any of the potential twists with the characters or story arc.
True, while Redford is considered old-school by many, he couldn't be any more in touch with society's modern sensibilities. First of all, the longtime champion of independent film has pooled the most effective resources possible to enhance this high-profile independent production; and secondly, he's doing it so not to be restricted by studio suits concerned with content that they may deem as unsellable. Sure, the film won't do blockbuster numbers, but the people who do go will at least get something that's smart, informative and entertaining.
At its heart, "The Company You Keep" is a human story, but Redford is also clearly calling attention to the loss of integrity in today's journalism, and how there's still hope to bring it back to prominence. While "The Company You Keep" is not a perfect film, it gains high marks for telling a compelling tale without getting too political or preachy.
For two hours, for the lack of better words, it's great company.
"The Company You Keep," rated R. 3 1/2 stars out of four.
What other local critics are saying ...
Colin Covert of the Star Tribune said in his 2 star review that "there is enough plot here to stuff a trilogy, but the film never finds itself." He did praise Redford's generosity with his actors, saying the "film's saving grace is its sterling cast."
Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press also gave "The Company You Keep" 2 stars, saying, "Sorry to quibble, but the clunky quibble-worthiness of 'Company' keeps tripping up this overly ambitious film."
Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.