Robert Redford restores his good name as a director with The Company You Keep, a solid adult drama/journalism mystery. Featuring a murderer’s row of talent, all of whom rise to the occasion to some degree, the film delivers consistent thrills without getting lost in the noise and bloodshed that often dog similar stories. Much of this sophistication stems from the core cast’s age, and as high-speed chases are shelved in favor of more sophisticated means, it’s in embracing such realistic methods that the film distances itself from more far-fetched fare.
Based on the novel by Neil Gordon, The Company You Keep plays out very much like a slow burn procedural. With the opening minutes act of former Weather Underground member Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) turning herself in for a 30-year-old murder charge, the ball gets rolling and never quite stops. Thanks to a tip from an FBI acquaintance (Anna Kendrick) and several under-the-table deals, Albany Sun-Times reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) discovers that Nick Sloan (Redford), one of Solarz’s accomplices, has been practicing law in upstate New York under the name Jim Grant.
The old-fashioned thrills of Shepard’s investigation are then matched Sloan’s flight, in which the latter seeks help from his old troublemaker acquaintances (Nick Nolte and Richard Jenkins) while seeking elusive fellow member Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie) for reasons unknown. With FBI Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) on the trail and Shepard gleefully unable to stop digging through archives and interviewing related parties (among them Chris Cooper and Brendan Gleeson), the web grows deliciously tangled as new questions and answers arise with each new recognizable name.
The trade-off for a revolving cast of fresh faces, however, is that few are developed beyond their relationship to the cause. True to The Company You Keep‘s poster, this is firmly Sloan’s story with Shepard’s intertwined investigation a close second. Otherwise, each person plays his or her respective part, often never to be heard from again. That’s understandable, as is each Weather Underground member’s reserved approach their decades-old involvement, yet their guarded nature also results in subdued emotion, including toward their cause.
When questioned by Ben, the radicals spout stock answers about loyalty, honor, and doing the right thing, sounding a touch too wise for their own good. These exchanges are nonetheless executed with a high degree of skill, but the iciness prevents as much connection to the material as the film otherwise suggests. There’s also some convolution as to Solarz’s grand intentions, especially since Sloan doesn’t exactly want to out himself and so much is dependent on Lurie’s unlikely participation. Her lone wolf act of conscience seems antithetical to the movement’s unified ways, yet considering the support Sloan receives after all these years, the group appears strong enough to weather a few shake-ups.
Regardless of these minute speed bumps, Lem Dobbs’ script is too smart and Redford’s direction too capable to disrupt the winning flow. Even the film’s main secret, which is visually alluded to early on, is intelligently set up and smoothly revealed. For this and other deft handling of complex situations, The Company You Keep stands apart as a rare mature work amidst a sea of pretenders. Don’t let it pass you by.
Rated R for language.
The Company You Keep is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.