May 29, 2013

Harvest Home

Movie Pick: The Company You Keep

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (R) There is a great movie to be made about left-wing radicals, but The Company You Keep is not the one. Having said that, Robert Redford's latest directorial effort is not without its insights or entertainment value. Ex-Weather Underground member Susan Solarz (Susan Sarandon), who now lives incognito as a suburban mom and wife, is arrested for her involvement in a bank robbery back in the 1970s, and a New York lawyer, Jim Grant (Robert Redford), is given the task of representing her. But Grant rejects the offer. Why? A hotshot newspaper reporter, Ben Shephard (Shia LaBoeuf), snoops around Grant's past and links him to the earlier crime. Shepard is on the hunt, rooting out Grant's secretive past and interviewing several of the principal players in the homegrown terrorist group's pivotal years. A clash of generations ensues, and Grant goes on the run.

As a director, Robert Redford has always been vanilla. He is tastefully respectful in terms of style and approach to character psychology—never going too far into the muck of what makes us really click—and he's casually observant of human psychology. He's what the great film critic Manny Farber would contemptuously label as a purveyor of "White Elephant Art," an adherent of middle-class respectability and politeness. He's a bore. But you cannot dismiss Redford these days, as he is a filmmaker still clinging to the last remnants of classical storytelling and drama, something that has become rare in this age of more stylistically kinetic, emotionally synthetic moviemaking. 

Screenwriter Lem Dobbs (Dark City, The Limey) prods at the moral and political ambiguities embedded in the actions of his subversives, and the movie is autumnal in its approach. Redford, Sarandon, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte and Sam Elliott all exude a wheezy yet valiant honor in their portrayals of an exhausted generation of radicals, but the movie never quite takes off as the thriller it wants to become. It's no Three Days of the Condor (an earlier Redford movie) or Running on Empty (Sidney Lumet's poignant look at leftist rebels), in other words. In an era when recent European features like The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) and Carlos (2010) have reminded audiences of leftist political violence, The Company You Keep comes off as a bit tame. But the performances, especially by Sarandon, and the movie's earnest approach to the material, merit a look.