Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Company You Keep (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Company You Keep 

Although a rather conventional treatment of an unconventional subject, Robert Redford has respectably returned to the director's chair with "The Company You Keep" based on a book by Neil Gordon on the aftermath of The Weather Underground, a radical militant group during the Vietnam Era.

Robert Redford stars looking well-seasoned as if sprinkled with cinematic cinnamon, playing lawyer and single dad  Jim Grant with a secret to keep.

The action starts when a neophyte reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LeBeouf) gets a leak on a story that one of the head members has been caught and wants to talk. LeBeouf plays Ben slightly like Jimmy Olsen ala "Superman": he is disheveled, bespectacled, loud and a bit clumsy, but he gets better as the story progresses.

Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon, of course) is behind bars and talks to Ben who will do anything to get a story. He finds his way to Jim Grant who initially fires back at him in the inimitable  rapid-fire  cadence  that Redford has  made into an art form with films like "All the President's Men" (1976) and "Three Days of the Condor" (1975). "I'm not for or against. " Ben says, "I don't have an opinion."

"And that makes you fair and balanced." Jim quips.

But Ben doesn't give up, becoming more and more obsessed by the members of The Weather Underground. 

The film is a nostalgic throwback to the political thriller dramas of the 1970s. Most of the narrative takes place in a series of offices, newsrooms and piers and you can imagine the trail of a few  electronic smokeless cigarettes, even though there are none present.

Our fledgling reporter gets an opening by bribing a pretty girl, in addition to a  dusty manila envelope shoved under the door. 

And Shia LeBeouf gets increasingly sweaty.

Ah, those were the days.

The fun in the film is waiting for the ball to drop, to see how much of a mess Jim will be faced with. 

Redford is after all, the iconic man on the run with a good heart.

One weak spot is the casting. How many grumpy character actors can we count here? There is the eternally  present Nick Nolte as an old scofflaw friend and he is as gravel voiced as ever (wearing a "Liberty or Death" tee). There is Chris Cooper as Jim's sour brother, Sam Elliott  as a mellowed logistics operator, and last but not least Richard Jenkins as an enervated college prof.

Despite a bit of uninspired casting, the action still holds you with Redford playing a bit of Jason Bourne sans the feverish fists. Robert Redford has such a legacy of heart and wit that he is hard to refuse here, albeit his covert voyage decidedly lukewarm.

A refreshing surprise though, is an appearance by the enigmatic Julie Christie as head femme fatale. She gives the revolution some charge, haunt and spark.

"The Company You Keep" will well satisfy diehard Redford fans. The traditional machine gun dialogue and back-room secret format is almost a conceptual art piece of the seventies' whistle-blower genre. It is only that given the subject matter, I wanted the whispering to be a tad more slippery, and the tread of time and space a little less clear. 

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