The Company You Keep

5 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: September 7, 2012
Reviewed for the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival
Feeling groovy

“Someone you love you should keep close to you.”

If you had to choose just one film to see at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, The Company You Keep—from inciting incident to closing credits—would satisfy any film buff.

Proving yet again that he just gets better with age, Robert Redford does a spectacular job in bringing this quasi-fictional tale of idealism run amok three decades later to the screen and wisely, memorably casting himself in the lead role of—now—Jim Grant, one of Albany, New York’s most successful lawyers—then—Nick Sloan, a passionate rebel, member of the notorious Weatherman Underground Organization.

Who wouldn’t want to work with the fabled filmmaker/actor/provocateur?

Julie Christie positively radiates as the still defiant heller, Mimi Lurie. A long-lost flame of Sloan (the social activists were apparent masters of slipping far below any law enforcement radar following the botched Michigan Bank robbery where a security guard was killed by the masked marauders), the reunion sequence—replete with a morning after that says it all without venturing into the ravages-of-time-on-flesh department) is a gem. Forget the dialogue and savour both pairs of eyes that speak far more effectively than words.

Present-day equivalents of the bell-bottom, “Feeling Groovy” era social activists with a cause (the overwhelming, documented atrocities of the Vietnam War, leading to the U.S. government shooting its own outraged citizens during their protests) come in two flavours. Albany Sun-Times’ intrepid reporter, Ben Shephard, (engagingly making or missing deadlines is Shia LeBoeuf) who stumbles onto a story with Pulitzer Prize potential when one of the Weathermen—Sharon Solarz—is arrested just moments before she finally has the courage to turn herself in. Susan Sarandon aces her subsequent jailhouse interview with Shephard, artfully allowing the artistic trust (Lem Dobbs’ taut screenplay is based on Neil Gordon’s 2003 novel) to make their political/moral points while the accused—now mother of two—wears her prisoner’s chains like a badge of honour.

Struggling to find her own outlet to make the world a better place, former Peace Corp participant, Rebecca (Brit Marling) is trying her hand at law school after realizing that psychology seldom changes anyone’s mind. Curiously her dad, Henry (this time Brendan Gleeson is a model of selfish willful blindness), was one of the investigators of the Michigan Bank caper. Now retired, it may well be he’s always known more than is good for his loved ones or justice served in the cold case that’s suddenly boiling over with Solarz’s arrest.

A disastorous consequence for Grant/Sloan of the sudden FBI action is that his 30-year cover is blown. With nowhere to hide and 11-year old daughter, Isabel (Jackie Evancho), still suffering the trauma of her mother’s year-ago passing, the father instinct kicks in with a vengeance.

Before you can say “tight scripting, red herrings and crisp editing,” Issie is safe with her uncle (Chris Cooper) and dad is on the lam.

Along the cat-and-mouse journey (with the authorities close-but-no-cigar-behind—Terrence Howard as lead investigator Cornelius doggedly leading the charge) a covey of Sloan’s edgy associates comes into frame. Best of show begins in a small town diner where viewers can be forgiven in thinking that the sudden fugitive has added “master of disguise” to his considerable getaway arsenal only to discover a hilariously “dialected” Nick Nolte lurking under the white curls.

Later on in Chicago, Richard Jenkins reprises his role (cross-reference below) as a totally committed (if somewhat shallow) professor—surely those shaping today’s young minds—history, of course—couldn’t have had a past they’d rather remain forgotten?

And so it seems full circle for Redford. 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid also deals with those outside the law but with considerably different results. Rather than perishing in a hail of bullets—defiant to the end—stoic honesty finally pays off, perfectly balancing the sub-mantra of both films that “Dissent can be dicey.” The late, lamented Hal David’s magical score was the perfect foil to the carnage and mayhem of George Roy Hill’s masterpiece while the organ-informed discretion of the sparse original score from Cliff Martinez serves its subtle purpose equally effectively.

The final frames where “delinquent” dad and perplexed daughter reacquaint after the turmoil reminds one and all how powerful quietude can be. JWR

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