Film review: Redford finds political balance in new thriller

Film review: Redford finds political balance in new thriller
Shia LaBeouf is an ambitious reporter, who uncovers a secret in “The Company You Keep.” Photo by Doane Gregory

Under the experienced direction of Robert Redford, “The Company You Keep” turns out to be an expressive thriller that doesn’t get bogged down by its political elements. 

It’s not easy keeping politics out of the movies, especially when their influence gets in the way of what is supposed to be entertainment. Often the opinions are either ostentatious to the point where the director becomes a propagandist, or unsuccessful as potential sources of intellect/drama.

That being said, what happens when you craft a story that knows how to deal with politics in a smart manner while still managing to be a worthwhile reason to stand in line at the box office? Well, for such a description, you get “The Company You Keep,” the latest directorial feature from renowned actor/filmmaker Robert Redford.

As a former Weather Underground militant, Jim Grant (Robert Redford) now lives as an upstanding Albany attorney and loving single father. But his peaceful existence comes crashing down when an ambitious reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) discovering Grant’s true identity as a bank robber and murderer.

Now on the run from the authorities, Grant searches for his ex-lover, Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), the only person who can prove his innocence and reunite him with his daughter. As Grant and his fellow militant members come to terms with the consequences of their radical pasts, Ben must contend with the moral dilemma he faces as a reporter.

“The Company You Keep” touches upon the social movements that defined the radicalism of the 1960s, especially the Weather Underground. Whether you’re a history buff or a newcomer, I’ll have you know the film digs into the activities that the so-called “Weathermen” were responsible for perpetuating during the peak of their existence.

Whatever measures they resorted to in order to get their point across are brought to light, and it may prove to be a sensitive issue for anyone leaning in favor of their efforts, as well as those who opposed them.

At the same time, Redford doesn’t surrender to the temptation to lecture about the groups’s ideals and force us to choose sides. Instead, he uses the organization’s historical relevance as a backdrop for a man who seeks to not allow his past to destroy the new leaf he struggles to turn over.

For 125 minutes, the execution works, and we find ourselves emotionally invested in Grant’s journey to prove that his Weatherman identity does not control him. This may be a chase thriller, but Redford’s direction infuses the seemingly generic story with a soul worth rooting for.

Redford may be getting on, but he still possesses the ability to captivate moviegoers’ with his onscreen presence. He does an excellent job of infusing Grant’s past with a relatable degree of humanity, and this becomes apparent, as his flawed but well-meaning, protagonist attempts to prove his innocence without repeating the same mistakes he’s made. Redford’s decades of experience are complemented by LaBeouf, who brings a reckless ambition to Ben Shepard.

The supporting cast members have limited screen time, but this being an actors’ project, Redford understands the advantages that come with the “less is more” approach. Julie Christie is an incredibly understated force to be reckoned with; the conviction she exudes is worthy of recognition. Susan Sarandon, Terrence Howard, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte, Stanley Tucci, Sam Elliott, and Chris Cooper have their fair share of notable moments in spite of their fleeting appearances.

In addition to the veterans, we also get to see this generation of performers demonstrate their talents. Anna Kendrick and Brit Marling enliven the film with wisdom and emotion beyond their years, and each one has solid chemistry with LaBeouf’s character. Jackie Evancho may have fewer scenes than either of them, but she is an equally important credit to the development of Redford’s Grant.

Balance is the best reward “The Company You Keep” could ever ask for, and that success comes with knowing how to employ controversial politics in a story without going overboard.

MPAA rating: R for language

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes

Playing: General release

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