Are you ready for a modern-day examination of the ’60s radicals-turned-domestic-terrorists known as the Weathermen, at least one that doesn’t involve President Obama’s tangential relationship with ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers? Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep is another ’60s nostalgia exercise, this time in the guise of a suspense thriller.
Redford’s film raises a handful of interesting ideas, but far and away the most impressive thing about it is that Redford’s ability to convince his famous friends to appear in small roles.
The film features a virtual all-star team of over-60 actors- Redford, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Chris Cooper, Sam Elliott, even Julie Christie- mostly playing aging ’60s types in various states of adult respectability. And even the small parts of younger characters drew the likes of Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci and Anna Kendrick. It’s quite an impressive cast for a film that barely received a theatrical release last spring.
The film begins with the arrest of an ex-radical (Sarandon) who has been caught after living a Sara Jane Olsen-like double life for 40 years. Cut to Redford, a do-gooder lawyer in upstate New York who turns out to also have been living under an assumed name for all that time. On the run from both law enforcement and a young reporter (Shia LaBeouf) who’s put two and two together, Redford goes on the road throughout the U.S. and Canada, visiting old friends while also trying to clear his name.
The plot is thin and implausible, and the movie’s attempts to be a thriller are never very successful. And the movie cops out in a serious way by making Redford an Innocent Man Wrongfully Accused.
But “The Company You Keep” as it its strongest when we get to see Redford bouncing off a series of Grand Old Actors. It’s great to see him joust with Nolte, who looks even less like someone who could’ve been a ’60s radical than Redford, or Jenkins, playing an Ayers-like Weatherman-turned-academic.
There are some implausibilities in the plot, such as Redford being a little too old to have been a ’60s radical, and that someone wanted on murder charges could live a public life as a lawyer for decades without anyone ever recognizing recognizing him. The LaBeouf character makes no sense- he’s a 21st century journalist who doesn’t tweet or use email? And a plot twist involving an adoption is the most unbelievable aspect of all.
Redford is capable of directing a movie of genuine consequence- 1994’s “Quiz Show” is a near-masterpiece- and he’s also capable of far worse than this- see “Lions For Lambs,” which of all those terrible Iraq War films, is by far the worst.
Sooner or later there won’t be any more movies about 1960s nostalgia. Right? I guess as long as there are still baby boomers with access to Hollywood machinery, we’re going to get films like “The Company You Keep.”