The Company You Keep (15)

Jan 07, 2015
Cranbrook Film Society

A thriller about the afterlife of those involved in the 1970’s Vietnam War protests where Redford, playing his true age for once, is a former militant activist on the run. Julie Christie, Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon feature as former co-conspirators.

Robert Redford | Canada | 2012 | 121 minutes | 15

Film notes:

For those growing up in the sixties and seventies, the beginning of this classy political thriller takes you back to the time of those radical US campus based organisations opposing the Vietnam War and working to overthrow the government. Newsreel clips set up the story, including grainy film of a bank raid reminiscent of that well known shot of heiress Patty Hearst in a hold up with her former Symbionese Liberation Army captors. But it’s Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) whose past has caught up with her and we see being arrested for the murder of a security guard 30 years ago. Robert Redford’s lawyer character, recently widowed Jim Grant, is asked by an old friend to represent her, and we realise that they were also part of the movement, having gone underground years ago, then reinventing themselves and living peaceably since – until an ambitious young journalist (a convincing Shia LaBeouf) starts to dig, and suddenly Grant is on the run from him and the FBI.

Well known as a Hollywood liberal, Redford was – according to an Observer report last year – a follower in the late sixties of the Weather Underground: “I supported their cause because I also thought the Vietnam War, just like the Iraq war, was built and sold on a faulty premise”. At the time he felt there was a story in what happened to the people involved but not one he could tell back then. In this his ninth film as a director, and supported by a distinguished cast of his actor contemporaries (who apparently worked on the film for low rates), including the great Julie Christie, Redford decided the time had come.

For once, Redford is playing someone rather closer to his chronological age, with no qualms about contrasting his current craggy looks with his youthful beauty, as we see FBI agents generating computer images of how the young revolutionary they are hunting might have aged. LaBeouf holds his own alongside the veterans (median age 70 years), as does a somewhat underused Anna Kendrick, memorable as George Clooney’s young nemesis in Up In The Air and here playing an FBI officer.

As well as being a gripping and intricately plotted addition to the genre of great chase films, The Company You Keep touches on journalistic ethics, and also on the psychology of inhabiting an identity which is not the one you started out with, reflecting upon how we come to terms (or not) with what we did in our youth and, as the Hollywood Reporter put it, ”the courage and cost of dissent”.

The film won Redford two awards at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2012, had a mixed reception from US critics but was received more favourably in other parts of the world. Overall, it seems to have had surprisingly little impact and was hardly seen in this country. Dare one wonder whether the film suffered from ageism – even positive reviews refer to it with a faint whiff of condescension as a movie for “mature audiences” or “thoughtful adults” and suggest that “men of a certain age are sure to fall in love with Julie Christie all over again”. At the end of the New York Times review, the critic (aged 72) wondered “why there isn’t a contemporary equivalent to the widespread radicalism of the 1960s and ’70s. I think it may have to do with the information explosion, which has taught us that the balance of good and evil is pretty much the same everywhere, and that violence only begets more violence.” Or are young people today less idealistic and less politicised? This is a film which invites you – of a certain age or not – to reflect upon whether and if so how you, the real inner you, may have changed over the passing years.

Shirley Wiggs


            Weighted vote 84.6%