By MICHAEL SMITH
I like the premise of "The Company You Keep": Robert Redford stars in and directs this tale of a former member of the Weather Underground, that radical Vietnam War-era group seen by some as early domestic terrorists. When his identity is exposed, he must go on the run.
But it only takes a matter of minutes to remember that Redford's last movie, "Lions for Lambs," was a political lecture (liberal in that case) that no one should have to withstand in a cinema, and that though this offers a higher entertainment value, his new movie is more of the same.
Redford's message is a bitter pill: Vietnam was horrible, the spirit of protest was necessary but sometimes misguided, our government still protects the wealthy above all, and journalism is a joke that should be treated like a punching bag.
Redford is to be commended for his past work on social- commentary films like "The Candidate" and "Brubaker," as well as his Sundance efforts that have given voice to so many talented independent filmmakers. His contributions are legend.
But he should no longer make motion pictures if he must ascend a soapbox every time out. At 76, he is making motion pictures that prattle on in platitudes to a degree that only diminishes his legacy.
It doesn't help that, at 76, he is the father of an 11-year-old in this movie (OK, so his character married a younger woman, but why is it always this way?).
He plays James Grant, an East Coast attorney who for 30 years has been a pillar of his community. He is a good man, with many friends and more than his share of pro bono work.
He is also, in reality, Nick Sloan - a fugitive of justice since the 1970s when his Weather Underground unit killed a man during the commission of a bank robbery. But nobody knows this until a nosy newspaper reporter uncovers his secret.
The fact that Shia LaBeouf plays the investigative journalist isn't as farfetched as it sounds because the character is written as an intelligent smart-aleck with few social graces, and LaBeouf can pull off that characterization. He's actually one of the better things in the movie until Lem Dobbs' flimsy script falls in on itself in the third act.
This is supposed to be a thriller, but it's more of a lesson in the value of idealism and the pursuit of those ideals without going too far and making mistakes that will last for a lifetime.
I like Redford's ideals and how he wants to employ them in this film - he wants to reinvent something from his own canon, like a mix between "All the President's Men" truth-seeking and "Three Days of the Condor" paranoia of "they're out to get me" moviemaking. And at least this picture isn't as preachy as his "Lions for Lambs," but it's still neither interesting nor engaged.
The many scenes set in the woods of British Columbia are quite lovely as stand-ins for Midwestern locations as Redford goes on the run from the authorities on something of an AARP-sponsored road trip.
These are the thrills of a thriller co-starring Julie Christie, Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte, for whom getting out of a chair is an effort.
The editing is lazy, the foreshadowing gives away multiple twists too early, and while Redford is solemn and solid, he is hardly a man- on-the-run type anymore, but rather a fellow on a hard-breathing jog. No offense meant, but it's hard to watch.
"The Company You Keep" could have worked as a crisp thriller, but there are too many scenes of actors debating like they're worn out, which fits in only because this is a tired movie free of nuance.
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
Originally published by MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer.
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