US / 122 minutes / color (with brief bw in the form of archive and faux-archive footage) / Voltage, Wildwood, Brightlight, Kingsgate, TCYK, Sony Dir: Robert Redford Pr: Nicolas Chartier, Robert Redford, Bill Holderman Scr: Lem Dobbs Story: The Company You Keep (2003) by Neil Gordon Cine: Adriano Goldman Cast: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Sam Elliott, Stephen Root, Jacqueline Evancho, Gabrielle Rose.
Decades ago, during the horrific height of the Vietnam War, the Weathermen, or Weather Underground, were at the cutting edge of domestic protest against it; they were classified by the authorities as terrorists, although later judgement of their activities tends to be kinder. According to the backstory of this movie, one of their crimes was a bank robbery in which a security guard was shot dead; the perpetrators have been on the run ever since.
The movie starts with the arrest by the FBI of one of those perpetrators, Sharon Solarz (Sarandon), now the respected pillar-of-the-community mother of teenage kids; she has in fact been on her way to NYC to give herself up, but the FBI, having caught wind of this through wiretaps, decided to seek kudos by pre-empting her. Her friend from the old radical days, Billy Cusimano (Root), tries to enlist public-spirited lawyer Jim Grant (Redford) for her defense, but he declines, pleading that, recently widowed, he has to focus on rearing his 11-year-old daughter, Isobel “Izzy” (Evancho).
Into the picture stumbles brattish local journalist Ben Shepard (LaBeouf) of the Albany Sun–Times, eager to make a name for himself. He manages to dig out evidence that “Jim Grant” is in fact Nick Sloan, wanted by the FBI as one of Solarz’s co-conspirators in the bank robbery. Just in time, Jim/Nick goes on the run with Izzy, whom he eventually manages to put into the safekeeping of his straitlaced younger brother Daniel (Cooper), cleverly passing custody papers for the child to Daniel in the moments before the FBI raids en masse the hotel where Nick and Izzy have been staying.
Nick slips away during the confusion and starts making his way across country, using help from old network contacts like Donal Fitzgerald (Nolte) and respected history professor Jed Lewis (Jenkins). Sharon, meanwhile, has announced that the only person she’ll speak to is Ben; his interview with her is conducted under the authority of, and of course monitored by, the FBI, whose Agent Cornelius (Howard) interrupts the proceedings just at the moment when it seems something startling might be revealed. To the chagrin of Ben’s contact within the Albany FBI, Diana (Kendrick), a junior staffer who was once his college girlfriend, the highly defensive Cornelius clearly sees Ben as part of the enemy.
Ben, ducking away from his exasperated editor, Ray Fuller (Tucci), uses considerable wile to track Nick. It becomes evident to him that the purpose of Nick’s flight is not to evade the authorities forever but to clear his name and thereby regain his daughter. Ben deduces that Nick is hoping to find the other suspect in the bank robbery, Mimi Lurie (Christie), who was once Nick’s lover and who might be able to testify definitively as to his guilt or innocence. Mimi, we discover, has undergone various changes of name and lifestyle, and is now living with her lover Mac McLeod (Elliott) on Big Sur, California, where her hobby/livelihood is smuggling in marijuana by sea.
At last Mimi and Nick are reunited in a remote Michigan cabin where one of the movie’s primary subtexts, the ageing of dreams and ideals, is brought to the surface. Nick claims that he grew out of his youthful ideology whereas Mimi has never been able to; and yet it’s Mimi who, if anything, has the better of their argument. So much time has passed, she muses as she looks from the cabin, that those trees that used to be small enough you could see all the way to the water are now an impenetrable wall; the symbolism is obvious. But the FBI is closing in and she must choose whether to maintain her freedom or exonerate Nick . . .
There’s a whole subplot concerning the cop, now retired, who was in charge of the investigation of the bank robbery, Henry Osborne (Gleeson). It’s clear that he knows much more than he revealed in the investigation’s official conclusions. It becomes plain to us even before it does to the doggedly pursuing Ben that part of this untold story is the identity of the Osbornes’ adopted daughter Rebecca (Marling).
This is a long and carefully paced movie that maintains its suspense less through action sequences—of which there are virtually none—than through the intensity of its telling. Despite the complexity of its plot (the above summary is pretty barebones), the narrative is well enough constructed to maintain clarity. The cast represents a quite astonishing assemblage of talents, from long-time stalwarts like Nolte and Sarandon and Cooper and Tucci and Elliott in relatively small parts, to those like Christie and Redford himself in the major ones, to younger firebrands like Marling and Kendrick, and even to the child Evancho; this might be the latter’s first (credited) screen role, but aside from acting she’s a successful singer with, at age 13, several bestselling albums already under her belt.
Perhaps the only minor flaw concerns the age discrepancy between the generations. While it’s emphasized that Jim’s/Nick’s deceased wife was much younger than him, Izzy, at 11, still seems an almost preternaturally late child. (To be fair, Redford, who delivers a predictably topnotch performance, seems younger than his mid-70s here.) Again, although the disparity is less obvious and less important, Henry and Marianne Osborne (Rose) seem really quite elderly to be the parents of adopted daughter Rebecca.
The movie’s release date is often given as 2012. In fact, although it had festival screenings in 2012, it wasn’t openly released until early 2013.
On Amazon.com: The Company You Keep