Thursday, April 4, 2013

Terrorists/freedom fighters in their twilight years: Redford's THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

The evergreen saw that tells us a terrorist is simply a freedom fighter from another viewpoint takes on meaning yet again in THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, the new film starring, directed and co-produced by Robert Redford, with a screenplay via Lem Dobbs from the novel by Neil Gordon. Interestingly close in theme to another movie -- Bob's New Suit -- that just made its straight-to-DVD debut (about which I'll have more to say here soon), Company tells the tale of the appearance, after several decades, of former Weather Underground members who've been hiding from the law under assumed identities but are now making themselves known, arrested and/or on-the-run.

Mr. Redford has assembled about as starry a cast (for adult audiences, that is) as any we're likely to see again soon, and he and Mr. Dobbs have given that audience a tale that, initially at least, is likely to depress them in a  thoughtful, darkly nostalgic manner that will take those who currently reside in Redford's and my own generation back to the days of our protesting the Vietnam War. What the movie then brings to the fore, inadvertently or not (I think not), is how little has changed regarding the way our government lies, cheats and steals, engaging our country in unauthorized, unnecessary conflicts that cost our "higher powers" little and in fact enrich them no end, while sacrificing the lives of our young. For those of us approaching (or already in) our 70s, there is no way the film will not initially make us angry anew and doubly so for how little those in power seem to have learned -- or even care that they have not.

All this, of course, occurs at the beginning of the film, as the situation is being set up. Once in action, the movie becomes a kind of thriller (and not a bad one) about what, exactly, is happening and why, before eventually descending into a feel-good finale that makes everything all right. I am as clued-in as the next moviegoer to what audiences want (or say they want) and so can fully understand the reasoning going on here.

Yet having brought up the subject of the Weather Underground, its intentions and how these sometimes went afoul, it is a shame that Redford didn't deal with all this more effectively. He addressed important and timely questions in his more overtly political film Lions for Lambs (made in the middle of the disgusting George W. Bush regime), which you should see -- and see again if you didn't appreciate it the first time, for it was and remains a brave and intelligent movie, very well executed.

On the other hand, he and his team have given us probably his most accessible and popular entertainment in some years (perhaps since Quiz Show or that silly Horse Whisperer), and so one can't really blame him for taking the easier route. At least he's raised some worthwhile questions about some important subjects: how the past must impinge on the present and the lies we tell our children, for whatever reason, will finally haunt us and them.

About that starry cast, let's count the blessings on display: Julie Christie (four photos up) in what seems to be another yearly and welcome return to the screen, looking weathered and quite wonderful, is as good as ever in the acting department; Brit Marling (adding luster to her recent work in Arbitrage and Sound of My Voice) as another piece of the puzzle; and Brendan Gleeson (two photos above) as a slippery police chief. Anna Kendrick, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte (three photos above), Chris Cooper and Richard Jenkins (above, right): they're all here and doing splendid work. Oh -- and look for a wonderful prison scene with Susan Sarandon (shown below).

As his co-star, Redford has tapped the now-slightly-beyond-teen-years Shia LaBeouf, below with Ms Marling, playing an enterprising young journalist whose biggest story to date this one is. LaBeouf seems less out of his element here than in films like Lawless or the Wall Street sequel, and he acquits himself well, delivering some choice lines like "I barely have furniture!" (which, in context, proves delightful).

To see this fine a cast strut its stuff is reason enough to view The Company You Keep. But should you happen to see it along with members of the younger generation, for goodness sake, open up a line of discussion and fill them in.

From Sony Pictures Classics and running a long but never boring 125 minutes, the movie opens tomorrow, Friday, April 5, in New York City (Cinemas 123, Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Regal Union Square) and Los Angeles (Hollywood Arclight and The Landmark), and the following Friday, April 12, in 32 more cities, with a continuing rollout across the country in the weeks to come. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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