Robert Redford, one of Hollywood’s most accomplished creative minds, has the art of filmmaking deep in his marrow. His latest outing, the thriller “The Company You Keep,” may not be up to par with his earlier directorial outings, but his total command of cinema shoots the film miles higher than most current American fare.
Along with directing, Redford still stylishly wears his leading man hat as Jim Grant, a single father who lives a sleepy life in the suburbs of Albany. Grant’s past bursts into the present when eager young newspaper reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) discovers Grant’s a wanted fugitive for a murder committed nearly 40 years earlier as a member of the radical 1970s anti-war group The Weather Underground.
Grant must leave his young daughter with his brother (Chris Cooper) to escape the FBI, all while trying to track down the one former radical, Mimi Lurie (a marvelous Julie Christie), who can clear his name. Hungry reporter Shepard is hot on his trail, hoping to break a career-making story.
Redford’s deceptively delicate directorial hand keeps this gripping thriller firmly rooted in character dynamics instead of Hollywood histrionics. As an actor, he has created an actor’s film with a supremely superlative cast at the top of their game.
The film’s heroes are suspected murderers from the ’70s hiding from justice, yet Redford cleverly makes us empathize with them by masterfully casting some of Hollywood’s coziest, beloved, and most trusted veterans. It’s a reunion of sorts from some of the biggest names of the ’70s and ’80s, including Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte. Although they play former domestic terrorists, as actors they have wormed their way into America’s cinematic hearts, making us cheer them on despite their questionable past.
Younger actors also shine brightly. LaBeouf makes an ideal nemesis as a persistent young reporter—he’s a pushy weasel whose charm makes us want him to get his story. Anna Kendrick, as a young FBI agent and reluctant informant, brings an amusingly beleaguered eyeroll to LeBeouf’s more brazen seductions.
Redford and the wondrous Christie are the standouts. Redford makes acting look effortless, imparting a myriad of emotions, from weary frustration to wistful remembrance, with merely a smirk or a glance. Christie, looking as radiant as ever, calms the film’s rambling American spirit with cool, continental sophistication; you whole-heartedly believe her golden glamour girl now pushes weed. Even in their 70s, the duo makes an exquisitely dashing couple. The film only briefly flirts with their relationship, but the sparks they generate (or rather regenerate) from a long-ago youth make for excellent and memorable scene work.
Critic’s Score: A
Directed by Robert Redford
Cast by Avy Kaufman, Maureen Webb
Starring Robert Redford, Shia LeBeouf, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon