A thriller rooted in the Weather Underground
Talk about burying the past.
In The Company You Keep, a crosshatched thriller with its roots in '60s radicalism, a gang of extremely familiar boomers - Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, and Robert Redford - have gone into hiding.
New identities. New lives. New perspectives on what occurred a half century before.
But when Sharon Solarz (Sarandon) is scooped up by FBI agents at a gas station in Upstate New York, her former confreres in the Weather Underground - a militant splinter of Students for a Democratic Society - become more than a bit concerned. Nick Sloan (Redford) is a successful Albany lawyer, but he doesn't want anything to do with defending Solarz - and not simply because he's recently widowed, with a young daughter to take care of. (It was a May/December marriage, and he surely didn't expect to outlive his wife.) Somewhere in his sunlit, tidy house, there's a secret drawer filled with forged passports, drivers' licenses, and cash. You never know when you'll have to make an escape.
Like Running on Empty, the 1988 drama about a couple of '60s radicals still in hiding (but now with rebellious kids in tow), The Company You Keep examines the mixed legacy of a generation of antiwar, antiestablishment activists. Idealism tempered by time. Political fervor muted by mistakes, misdeeds.
And, yes, the Weather Underground were deemed terrorists back in the day. In Lem Dobbs' screenplay, adapted from the Neil Gordon novel, Solarz was among a group of Weather Undergrounders that robbed a bank in Michigan, killing a guard in the process. She and her cohorts have been on the Most Wanted list ever since.
And now there's a hotshot newspaper reporter, a kid by the name of Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), out to uncover the story - and make a name for himself.
Directed in steady fashion by Redford, The Company You Keep manages to keep its multiple strands of plot - and the people caught in them - from collapsing in a jumble of confusion. This alone, given the whirl of personal and political history going on, is an accomplishment. LaBeouf's character's doggedness - he toils, unappreciated, for a barking, budget-cutting editor (Stanley Tucci) at the Albany Sun Times - seems callow and unconvincing, especially when you consider Redford's history-making newshound in All the President's Men. And the rush to a satisfying (and surprising, perhaps) ending, alas, does feel rushed.
But there is lots of fine work going on. Christie, as a key member of the Weather Underground who has spent the ensuing decades changing names and homes with unerring precision, is captivatingly inscrutable. Nolte, as a croaking construction boss (with a secret past, of course), is suitably wry and wrinkled. Sarandon bows out early, but she's perfect (maybe too perfect?) as a housewife with a covert, and criminal, C.V.
And late in the game, Brendan Gleeson and Brit Marling show up. The latter tangles, and tangos, with the ink-stained, notebook-toting LaBeouf - raising the possibilities of romance between the twentysomethings, and raising the possibility that somebody under 40 might want to a buy a ticket for the film.
But that's being cynical, isn't it?