“The Company You Keep”
Starring: Robert Redford, Brit Marling, Stanley Tucci
A movie in search of a story, this Robert Redford-directed flop has all the interest and suspense of a piece of burnt toast. The fate of three former members of the American ’60s radical left group The Weather Underground sets the film’s plot objective. A scant crash-course in the homegrown terrorist organization reveals that one of the group’s members shot and killed a security guard during a bank heist that took place in Michigan. Attempting to topple the U.S. government by robbing a bank doesn’t exactly couch the group as having a clear strategy back in the day. Currently, former group member Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) turns herself in to authorities after remaining hidden for 30 years disguised as a suburban housewife living in upstate New York.
Enter Shia LaBeouf’s laughably portrayed go-getter newspaper reporter Ben Shepard to start snooping around. LaBeouf repeatedly pushes his glasses up on his nose to show he’s a modern-day hippie journalist who understands, if not identifies, with the matured activists he follows like a cat sniffing a trail of tuna. Equally problematic is Stanley Tucci’s wobbly supporting performance as Ben’s editor. Tucci is just not serious or mean enough for the role of a demanding print newspaper supervisor.
Small-town attorney Jim Grant (Robert Redford) lives comfortably as a doting single father to his 10-year-old daughter Isabel (Jackie Evancho). Ben gets wind of Grant’s secreted past affiliation with the Weather Underground at roughly the same time as the FBI. Grant’s solo adventure on the lamb to reconnoiter with his old activist flame Mimi (Julie Christie) leads to a soap opera-worthy culmination, complete with wimpy dialogue about America’s wretched state of affairs. Yawn, yawn, yawn.
Mimi is the only member of the group still engaged in activism, and yet the screenwriters barely scratch the surface of her reality as a guerilla freedom fighter other than someone living off the grid.
Terrence Howard is sorely miscast in his under-developed role as the FBI’s lead agent. The movie would be more interesting if Howard had been cast as the reporter instead of LaBeouf. Not that it would have improved the storyline, but the movie would have been more appealing.
What promises to be an ostensibly self-assured examination of leftist principles crushed by a militarized fascist corporate monolith, transgresses into a meandering chase movie with very little at stake.
To the film’s detriment, Susan Sarandon’s character — the most intriguing of the bunch — gets lost in the shuffle. Redford’s socially reformed milquetoast role barely registers as anything other than half of shared protagonist duties opposite LaBeouf’s anemic performance.
The trouble with “The Company You Keep” is that it isn’t about anything. It does nothing to move the conversation forward about a capitalist system so riddled with corruption that there is no other example to follow. It’s a movie that makes its audience want to curl up in a ball and sleep for the next 10 or 20 years. CV
Cole Smithey — The Smartest Film Critic in the World — has covered every aspect of world cinema since 1997. His reviews and video essays are archived on his site: www.ColeSmithey.com.