Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: The Company You Keep

One of the hazards of waiting until the last second to write a review is, whether you want them to or not, other critics' opinions start to drift in your direction. Now, I have no idea exactly what their thoughts are on any given subject, but I have already picked up on the fact that Robert Redford's latest directorial effort, The Company You Keep, is being released into more markets this weekend without a whole lot of support behind it. This surprises me, because for my money it very well may be the best film that I have watched in 2013.

The Company You Keep stars Redford as Jim Grant, a well-respected defense attorney in his town dealing with life as a single parent after the unexpected death of his wife. Through a series of coincidences discovered by a young reporter in town (Shia LaBeouf), Jim finds his past coming back to haunt him in the form of recently arrested Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon). Solarz and Jim (real name Nick Sloan) were members of the 60s radical activists Weather Underground, and have lived decades under new aliases because of a bank heist that ended in the murder of a guard.

Leaving his daughter in the care of his estranged brother (Chris Cooper), Jim runs in an attempt to reconnect with the only person who can prove his innocence: a former lover (Julie Christie) that was actually a part of the robbery, and can tell police that Jim had nothing to do with any of it. With both the police and the enterprising reporter on his trail, Jim journeys cross-country, all in an attempt to return to the quiet life he knew just days before.

I'm not sure if Redford is a director that actors are just dying to work with, in the same way many view Woody Allen, or if he just used his Sundance clout to strong-arm award winning character actors into just about every speaking role in Company, but this is one of the most impressive casts to hit the screen in years. Ah, who am I kidding? It takes mutual respect to wrangle up fairly big-name actors to appear in roles that are clearly beneath them; it also takes a hell of a director to manage a cast this large and build it into a series of memorable scenes.

If there is a weak link, perhaps it's not surprising that it would be LaBeouf (star of the Transformers franchise). As the young, enterprising journalist, he has the unenviable position of being both the youngest star in the cast and least celebrated actor. In scenes featuring Redford, Sarandon, Stephen Root, and Brendan Gleeson the young man is all but blown off the screen by his elders. Some of this could stem from the fact that LaBeouf's character is so unlikable; there is a sense that Redford likes it better this way, as this is how he sees the younger generation, complaining about their lot in life but without the convictions of the baby boomers to actually fight for anything.

If there is a film that I would compare Company to, it would have to be The Fugitive. There are scenes here, with Redford just barely avoiding capture, that manage to convey the tension in that earlier film without feeling like a knock-off of the same. Perhaps its because of the personal investment he feels in the film, but Redford flexs acting muscles that we haven't seen since his 70s output, or depending on how generous you are feeling, perhaps Sneakers.

With an all-star cast and the best script of writer Lem Dobbs' career, Redford brings to the screen one of the finest films of his career, as well as a strong contender for my Top Ten list at the end of 2013. With Company, Redford manages to show directors with five times his output that it is possible to craft an entertaining political thriller in this era of franchise-crazy studios, as long as you have the talent to pull it off.

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