Robert Redford really is. He's one of the few remaining legitimate screen legends from the 1960s and 1970s. When he does make a film -- directing/acting -- moviegoers and fans should jump. Or as the case with 2012's The Company You Keep, he does both, directing and acting.
A single dad with an 11-year old daughter and his own private law practice, Jim Grant (Redford) is still adjusting to a new life since his wife died over the last few years. He's approached one day in his office by a young journalist, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), investigating a story about the recent arrest of a woman who was part of a murder/bank robbery in the late 1970s, the woman a member of an underground peace movement. Jim is less than interested in helping, making Ben that much more curious. He investigates further and finds out why. Jim Grant is not who he's saying. In fact, he may have been a part of the underground movement and one of three suspects at the bank robbery turned murder. The FBI is quick to pounce, but it's already too late. Jim is on the run and looking for someone from his past. Ben meanwhile is continuing his investigation and starts to question if maybe he's stumbled upon something else.
Not surprisingly, I think the best thing going for this film was that Redford and his talents are associated with it. While it received mixed reviews -- 56% at Rotten Tomatoes, 6.3 at IMDB -- and wasn't given much of a chance in theaters, 'Company' is successful because it is content being exactly what it is. No explosions, no gunfights, no real chases, just a smart political thriller that for the most part kept me interested throughout. I think at times it is a little sluggish, lacking a certain energy. On the other hand, it is always refreshing to watch a well-made thriller that doesn't resort to any common denominators. As many other reviews point out, it may be most successful because it shows what happened to the 1960s/1970s revolutionaries. Full of fire and brimstone 30 and 40 years ago, what did they do after their revolutionary times had passed? It's an interesting premise and jumping off point.
So hold the gunfights, explosions, chases and ultra-quick editing, and what is Robert Redford's character? It reminded me slightly of Jason Bourne, a man on the run and desperately trying to evade his pursuers until he can prove what he needs to prove. In his first acting role since 2007's Lions for Lambs, Redford doesn't disappoint, bringing a character to life we think we know all about only to learn more and more. We see him with his second life of sorts, caring for his 11-year old daughter, Isabel (singer Jackie Evancho). We learn he regrets certain incidents from his past and is desperately working to right wrongs. Like few others, Redford does it with relative ease, a cool factor on display like few others working in film or in any other era. Now 77 years old, Redford is as cool as ever. His acting roles are fewer and far between of late so appreciate them when they come along.
Oh, by the way, most of Hollywood is also in this movie. Apparently a whole lot of very talented individuals wanted to work with Redford because he assembles a cast that is ridiculous top to bottom. I'm coming around a bit on Shia LaBeouf who does a fine job here as an investigative journalist, Ben, who finds out a story needs to be fully investigated before reporting on it. It's an interesting character arc. Who else? How about Stanley Tucci basically making a cameo as Ben's hard-edged, tough editor. How about Terrence Howard as the lead FBI agent pursuing Redford's Jim with Anna Kendrick as a young agent on his team? Oh, and there's also Chris Cooper as Jim's younger brother, Brendan Gleeson as a former police chief with lots of info, Stephen Root as a friend seeking Jim's help and Brit Marling as a college student Ben meets in the course of his investigation.
Wow, that's a pretty impressive cast. Huh? Oh, there's more? Yes, it continues. There are other key parts with Julie Christie playing a woman from Jim's past who he desperately needs to talk to with Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte and Richard Jenkins all playing key figures from Jim's revolutionary underground past. And yes, Susan Sarandon plays an accomplice of sorts to the murder that sets the ball in motion. With this much talent, some of the parts are really just extended cameos, but the pure acting depth here is amazing to watch. Yes, maybe it is only a scene or two, but it's fun to watch all these very talented actors and actresses do their thing.
If there is a weakness here, it's in the final 30 minutes of a 122-minute long movie. The build-up can be slow at times, but the mystery and all the unanswered questions pick things up as needed. Unfortunately in the final half hour, the script resorts to too many past ideologies and principles that drove these characters back in the 60s and 70s. It doesn't quite limp to the finish line, but it's not quite the snappy ending I was hoping for. Things are wrapped up a little too nicely, a little too tidy. That said, I still feel very comfortable recommending this film for any number of reasons, ranging anywhere from the very impressive cast to the general throwback feel of a good, old-fashioned political thriller. A good movie, and that ain't a bad thing.
The Company You Keep (2012): ***/****