An acquaintance recently mentioned the irony that The Company You Keep, the new film from Robert Redford, wasn’t selected for the Sundance Film Festival, which Redford founded. All I can say is, good for Sundance.
I’m a fan of Redford’s classic films. I admire his activism, and I agree with his politics. But a bad movie is a bad movie, no matter how good its intentions. The Company You Keep is the work of a filmmaker who’s so obsessed with Making His Point that he forgets his craft. Audiences don’t want to be lectured to – especially when the lecture is buried in a meandering story and so-so performances.
Company stars Redford as Jim Grant, an Albany attorney who stands on the sidelines during the high-profile arrest of a onetime antiwar activist (Susan Sarandon) for her role in a bank robbery that led to murder more than 30 years ago. Grant’s reluctance to get involved is made more clear when Ben (Shia LeBoeuf), an enterprising young journalist, snoops around and discovers that the attorney has been lying about his identity for decades: He was actually a co-conspirator who’s been hiding in plain sight, and raising an 11-year-old daughter from a marriage to a now-deceased wife.
His identity exposed by Ben’s scoop, Grant goes on the lam with the FBI (particularly, agents played by Terence Howard and Anna Kendrick) and the reporter in hot pursuit. But Ben can’t stop wondering why Grant is running – as if the threat of capture isn’t enough reason – and eventually comes to conclude that the man is looking to clear his name.
Along the way our antihero encounters old friends aplenty – played by a who’s who of respectable senior thespians, including Julie Christie, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott and Brendan Gleeson – each adding their own random sizzle to this overcooked stew. But the mystery, such as it is, never really goes anywhere, and at two-plus hours The Company You Keep spends a lot of time running in circles with these familiar faces. Never is that overlength made more obvious than in the few scenes between Redford and LaBoeuf, in which I strongly suspect Redford the director couldn’t resist the impulse to impart some sage, generational wisdom to his 50-years-younger costar. No one can stop talking in this movie; a good old-fashioned car chase would have livened things up considerably.