THE COMPANY YOU KEEP. Starring: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Jackie Evancho, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte, and Brendan Gleeson. Directed by Robert Redford. Rated M (Coarse language). 122 min.
This is an American, political action thriller, based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Neil Gordon. It is fictional, and tells the story of a former “Weather Underground” member and anti-Vietnam War militant, Jim Grant (Robert Redford), who is widowed, and lives with his daughter, Isobel (Jackie Evancho), in the US.
The Weather Underground was a radical movement, suspected of leftist terrorism. Its former members now live as ordinary people with secret identities, but a number of them are still wanted for their past criminal activities. After a Michigan bank robbery in which a security guard was shot dead, Jim Grant finds himself implicated, and he has managed to hide from the FBI for more than 30 years. His real identity is eventually exposed by a smart, ambitious young journalist, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), who became alerted to Jim’s past after another member of the Weather Underground movement, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), was arrested for her part in the bombings of Government buildings across America in the ‘60s. Her arrest raises questions about others, and Ben Shepard follows the leads to investigate his story.
The person who can clear Jim’s name is Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), with whom Jim was involved romantically in the past. She was also a member of the Weather Underground, and she knows what really happened during the bank robbery. Jim desperately needs to find Mimi to save both himself, and to maintain the trust and affection of his 11-hear old daughter, Isobel, who was unaware of her father’s past. Jim needs to convince his daughter that he is an innocent man, and Mimi has the alibi that can prove he was not involved in shooting of the guard. Much of the film shows Jim chasing Mimi to try and convincer her to give herself up, but Mimi is reluctant to do that.
This is a film that captures vividly America’s social turmoil in the 1960s, and it has impact as a tense and restrained thriller. It communicates the youthful idealism of people, who were caught up in the Vietnam War, and is atmospheric and nostalgic for the risk that they took to survive in a turbulent period. Some of the youth of the 60’s, however, were also involved in criminal behaviour in pursuit of their ideals, and this has consequences. The movie raises questions about the commitment of members of social movements, the politics that surrounds them, and the ethics of what they did, as well as the morals of current journalistic practices. The latter, in particular, give the movie a very contemporary feel.
The film conveys a passionate conviction that the radical opposition in the ‘60s to the Vietnam War was a high point of idealism for America. It focuses on a Society, which the youth of the ‘60s wanted to change, but its dream came to be abandoned. The abandonment was seen as a consequence of patriotism that needed to be expressed in other ways, but the activism of the ‘60s still worries many, like Redford, who lived through it. The movie conveys powerfully the arguments that produced the social activism of the ‘60s and it pulls away from easy categorisation of all such behaviour as “terrorism”. The film thoughtfully keeps the personal commitment to believed-in-causes, up front as a possible force of profound social change.
The cast of this movie is a stellar one, and fine actors like Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, and Nick Nolte take relatively minor parts. Most of the actors all come from the period under scrutiny, and they are well known for their political independence. The movie is well-scripted, meaty in its reflections, and directed intelligently by Redford.
Under the expert direction of Redford, they all come together in this film to give us a thoughtful thriller about a past that still refuses to lie down, and disappear.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out April 18th 2013.