Robert Redford directed and starred in a movie called “The Company You Keep” which has reached the local twelveplex. The film is a wheezy sort of chase thriller, but it does have several features that will provoke discussion, at least if you and your friends are the right age.
One subject is the cast. It includes Julie Christie, the big screen fascinator of the late sixties and early seventies, the great Richard Jenkins, Kansas City’s Chris Cooper, rich man poor man Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Sam Eliott, and contemporary stars Shia LaBoef, Stephen Root, Anna Kendrick, and Terrance Howard. That’s a lot of accomplished talent on screen. And most of these stars play small roles.
And then there’s the Vietnam War era question. Almost all of the older actors play characters who used to be associated with “The Movement,” as the movie calls it. At the time we just thought of it as social and political protest. But there were nut cases romantic enough to believe they could change the world to their own liking in a matter of a few years.
Some of these guys extended their protesting to include acts of violence. A group called the Weathermen (because of a line in a Bob Dylan song: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”). Members claim to have set off bombs at a couple of government buildings and to have started a riot in Chicago. They issued virtually unreadable manifestoes.
Then circumstances took an odd turn. The War stopped, but several former Weathermen robbed a Brinks truck and three people were killed during the incident. The plot of “The Company You Keep” makes this a bank robbery. Sarandon plays a character who was a Weatherman associated with the robbery, someone who has lived for years as a suburban wife and mother, who is arrested by the FBI as she drives to Albany, New York, to turn herself in.
This act sets off the chase. She sends an indirect message to another former Weatherman who has lived his adult life in Albany, working as a lawyer. This fellow, Sloan (Redford), is identified as one of the fugitives by a local newspaper reporter, Shepard (LaBoef). Sloan leaves his young daughter with his brother (Cooper) and runs off to find a person who can testify he was not one of the bank robbers.
And he runs through the briars and runs through the brambles. He runs through the bushes of Michigan where a rabbit wouldn’t go. He sees one old contact after another before setting up a meeting out on the Upper Peninsula with the radical mother of his older child. That woman, the witness he hopes to convince to testify for him, is played by Christie who, like Jenkins and Brendan Gleeson, hasn’t forgotten how to make a new personality to suit a role.
But that isn’t enough to save the movie from seeming far-fetched, unrealistic, and generally familiar. Redford tries hard to give us reasons to sympathize with his character, mostly by associating him with his daughter, but it doesn’t work. Viewers won’t much like LaBoef’s character, either. Nor will they be able to believe his belated sacrifice of his own interests.
Not that this is a bad movie. But what makes it most interesting, the inclusion of all these fine actors, also works to cause some problems for the viewer. You see, one is too often reminded that nobody in “The Company You Keep” seems to be the right age. Redford looks to be in his seventies. His character must have been in his early twenties when his older daughter was born. So she must be, like, nearly fifty, right? The actress playing her, Brit Marling, is thirty-one. And Gleeson, who isn’t sixty yet, looks way too young to be Redford’s coeval.
And then there’s the box office age gap to consider, too. Moviegoers tend to be fourteen to twenty-four. Those guys have no idea what it is like to have fads and fashions fade away. They don’t know what the military draft was. And they have no reason to know who Robert Redford is, either. Or who he was.