Film Review: The Company You Keep

Excellent, well-paced drama boasting Robert Redford as director and lead, about the radical anti-war past and an ambitious, present-day young journalist and feds bent on finding a fugitive living underground with a new identity.

The Company You Keep is an engaging ride for upscale audiences into our anti-war past, especially those of the ’60s generation wherever they stood on U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. A fictional tale that cherry-picks from actual events involving extremist actions by ’60s radicals, the film focuses on a former radical forced to go underground but living a quiet, responsible life under a false identity until a journo outs him.

Jim Grant (Robert Redford) is a public-interest lawyer and widower living quietly with young daughter Isabel (singer Jacqueline Evancho) in the Upstate New York town of Saugerties. Quiet for him turns to upheaval with the capture of Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), the most-wanted radical Weatherman fugitive who has been living underground. Aggressive and ambitious Albany reporter Ben (Shia LaBeouf), using his connection to former college friend and junior FBI agent Diana (Anna Kendrick), gets access to Sharon and clues to Grant, another fugitive, who lives under an assumed name.

No thanks to Ben, Jim must now flee, as the overzealous journo has exposed him. But Jim has other motives for flight, including his being falsely accused of participation in the Weathermen’s headline-grabbing bank robbery 30 years ago that resulted in fatalities. Jim’s mission is to find that one person who knows he’s innocent.
He leaves his 11-year-old in the care of his brother Daniel (Chris Cooper) and hits the road, heading toward the Midwest. There, he reconnects with fellow anti-war colleagues, some still bitter and committed, others reformed and holding grudges against the radical elements. The anti-war gang—radical and otherwise, fugitives and otherwise—include Jim’s loyal old buddy Donal (Nick Nolte), who runs a thriving lumber yard in Milwaukee, and respected history prof Jed (Richard Jenkins), a former anti-war activist who had been on the non-violent SDS side of the anti-war movement and has no sympathy for the more radical elements. Following clues, Jim lands in Michigan where the robbery took place and tracks down Henry Osborne (Brendan Gleeson), the retired police chief in charge at the time of the crime. His daughter Rebecca (Brit Marling) facilitates their meeting.
Still hot on Jim’s trail is Ben, much to the dissatisfaction of his boss and demanding editor Ray (Stanley Tucci), who fights Ben’s pursuit of the story and stresses over his paper’s survival problems. But Ben forges on, as do Diana and her boss, senior FBI agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard), an obsessed Inspector Javert type determined to get his man.
But it’s Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), Jim’s former lover, whom he must find. She knows of his innocence but she is also living comfortably and in hiding in Big Sur with current partner Mac (Sam Elliott). Mimi knows the truth and agrees to reunite with him in the wilds of the Upper Michigan peninsula. But she won’t help him.

Yes, The Company You Keep is a tangle of many motives and characters who are somehow caught up in the anti-war underground. Sorting out who is who and who did what isn’t always clear, but such ambiguity is part of the fun and challenge. Fortunately, the film rewards with some nice surprises lying within characters, if not story.

Performances are fine, scenery looks authentic (if largely Canadian), and script and direction are solid. Viewers of a certain age will recognize many of these characters and some may even agree with the extremist opinions expressed, viz, that the violence-prone left was right in trying to forge a revolution to end this country’s alleged murders in Vietnam and on the Kent State campus. Well, at least everyone, no matter their age, will be jolted from their digital stupor.