As he ages well into his 70s, Robert Redford might have lost a step or two physically, but his aptitude on both sides of the camera is still as sharp as ever.
That doesn’t mean The Company You Keep is Redford’s finest film, because it’s far from that. But as an actor and director, Redford proves that he’s still capable of making the sort of provocative political thrillers that would make a younger generation envious.
His latest film, which boasts a deep ensemble cast, romanticizes political idealism and organized protest, and explores the concept of being forced to reconcile past sins when you least expect it.
Redford plays Jim Grant, a respected lawyer in upstate New York who is targeted by local investigative reporter Ben (Shia LeBeouf) for his suspected connection to a fugitive (Susan Sarandon) who turned herself into police for a bank robbery from four decades earlier.
As it turns out, the woman was a member of the Weather Underground, the famed radical antiwar collective whose members remain alive and scattered throughout the country. Ben eventually exposes Jim as a co-conspirator living under an alias, leading to a chain reaction that puts everyone on the run. Jim tries to alert his colleagues as the authorities start to close in, and Ben tries to accumulate facts to stay ahead of the story.
More straightforward than stimulating, The Company You Keep turns into a chase movie in its second half, deliberately paced by contemporary standards perhaps because of the age of its protagonists. Or maybe it’s because Redford would rather deal in characters rather than pile on visual gimmicks and special effects.
The sharp performances help to smooth out the rough edges, with a cast that includes Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, Stanley Tucci, Anna Kendrick, Brit Marling, Terrence Howard, Chris Cooper and Sam Elliott.
The screenplay by Lem Dobbs (Haywire) seems like a routine cat-and-mouse drama on the surface, but it’s more complicated than that. While it’s convincing enough to be mildly suspenseful, the film grows far-fetched and embellishes its depiction of contemporary journalists and lawyers alike.
In its hypothetical connection between past and present, the film provides a unique political perspective that also offers an intriguing comparison with some of Redford’s earlier works. But most of all, it’s a savvy thriller that stays a step ahead of expectations.
Rated R, 121 minutes.