The Company You Keep is an engaging thriller. I wished for more.
The film's topic is the Weather Underground, the band of radicals who committed violent crimes in the Vietnam War era. Some of them took it on the lam for years after. You'll recall that the Weather Underground was a campaign issue in 2008, when President Obama's foes attempted to link him to members of the group.
This is fascinating material. How did a bunch of American kids get involved in blowing up buildings? And why, decades later, do they all seem to be adjunct professors? I hoped The Company You Keep would be as memorable as Sidney Lumet's excellent 1988 film Running on Empty, a Weather Underground story that's told as an intense, emotionally nuanced family drama.
There's less nuance in The Company You Keep, which stars and was directed by Robert Redford. The movie's 1960s themes are evocative, but Redford doesn't really dwell on them. He uses familiar thriller elements - chase scenes, false leads, surprises - to keep the story surging along.
Redford plays Jim Grant, a small-town lawyer who is pursued by an Albany newspaper reporter (Shia LaBeouf) after the FBI arrests a former radical (Susan Sarandon). Jim, who likewise has a radical past, packs up cash and a fake ID, then heads across the country for reasons that aren't immediately clear.
LaBeouf's swashbuckling journalist reminds me of the reporters played by Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All the President's Men, except that the older film made newspapering look heroic. The Company You Keep is a distressingly accurate portrayal of today's troubled newspaper business. As LaBeouf's editor, Stanley Tucci even recalls Jason Robards' fretful Ben Bradlee, except the Tucci character frets about laying off an entire sports department.
The film stars a cavalcade of name actors, including Nick Nolte, Terrence Howard, Julie Christie, Anna Kendrick, Sam Elliott and even little Jackie Evancho, the singing sensation of America's Got Talent. I find the Muppet Movie-style casting strategy a distraction.
Still, I always rejoice to see Richard Jenkins, my favorite character actor. He plays a former radical who now teaches college. But I have a concern. Would a former radical really mispronounce Fanon as dramatically as Jenkins does?