Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Company You Keep: My take on the movie based on the book



The Company You Keep was just released on BluRay and DVD, includes four behind the scenes featurettes, red carpet footage and a press conference.

The Movie in a Nutshell
A former Weather Underground activist goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity.

Adapted by Lem Dobbs
Directed by Robert Redford

Starring Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Sam Elliot, Brit Marling, Ana Kendricks, Terrence Howard, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins and Jackie Evancho as Redford's daughter.


In 'my take on the book' post I called Neil Gordon's epistolary novel The Company You Keep, 'a superb political thriller with a wonderful soft underbelly of love, loyalty and the deepest ties of all, family.'

Robert Redford's film, which features Redford in the role of the former Underground member and Shia LaBeouf as the reporter closing in on him,  got no love at all on its release here in the states; I thought it was quite good if not equally superb.


Redford's Mug Shot as Nick Sloane
One of the novel's greatest appeals was the nostalgic trip down memory lane; while Redford and screenwriter Lem Dobbs (Haywire) don't have time to take us into the depths of historical context that the book provides; for audiences of a certain generation (mine), shorthand strokes like the FBI wanted poster of Redford in his 1970's mustachioed glory was all it took to be transported back to the good old, bad old days. I know I'm a marshmallow but the concept of all these former hippie types/now old farts with baggy jeans and cricks in their steps having had these long forgotten LIVES and BIG DREAMS and WANTING TO CHANGE THE WORLD in their youths planted a weird lump in my throat. But that's probably because I'm a liberal boomer, and while I think the violence of the far left was murderous and despicable and wouldn't ever choose or condone those actions myself, I understand that they felt our government's actions were equally murderous and despicable. The book is much more complete a picture but I think Redford as director tried to craft a somewhat balanced look back at left wing politics, using Shia LaBeouf's journalist to mock the nostalgic glow the activists like to paint the past with - I'm sure critics will feel he's airbrushed it for his own purposes as well. It all depends on politics. Beyond the politics, the book's emphasis of the connection between father and daughter was so strong, his desire to make her see and understand, so pressing that it really added to the impact; the film focuses more on the chase and mostly leaves philosophy on the side lines. I really enjoyed the film, connecting to certain aspects of it purely for that reason: nostalgia. I'd bet many a fellow boomer has seen it and felt the same. I didn't love it - I wanted to - but alas something was missing.

Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie) and Redford
The casting of Julie Christie as Mimi Lurie, Jim Grant's former lover and the one person who may be able to exonerate Redford's character, was shorthand as well. Christie, who had her heyday in the 60's and 70's (Darling, Dr. Zhivago, '65; Far from the Madding Crowd '67, Petulia '68; The Go Between '70, McCabe and Mrs. Miller '71, Shampoo '75 and Heaven Can Wait '78) brings the weight of the work with her as well as her life long history of political and environmental activism. The blonde beauty has aged well without too much Botox plumping her up; it took no leap of imagination at all to see Christie masquerading as a wealthy yacht club matron while running a huge pot business. The only thing lacking was a genuine connection between Redford and Christie as former lovers; a single bed slept in, the drape of a blanket around shoulders indicated the pair had reunited briefly but the point seems obligatory, lacking any bittersweet poignancy.

Susan Sarandon plays the small but pivotal part of Sharon Solarz; a woman who's been living underground as an ordinary suburban wife and mother for the past 30 years.  Solarz is captured by the FBI just as she's on the brink of turning herself in. Her arrest gets the whole ball started; Grant knows the feds will figure it all out and be on his trail soon. Sarandon is fine as the woman whose teenage kids are finally old enough to deal with it; in fact almost all the performances from the star-studded cast are excellent - if anything their appearances in the film are too brief.


Brit Marling (Becca) Shia LaBeouf (Ben)
LaBeouf gets the appropriately beefy role of the young journalist; he treads a fine line between driven young reporter and the twenty-something guy that just fell hard for a girl and can't get her out of his mind. In the novel Ben the reporter raves ad nauseum about the girl's exquisitely long neck; he's utterly enthralled; the daughter of the FBI agent originally in charge of the case is portrayed by Brit Marling in the film. I found Marling interesting looking, my twenty year old son was less enthralled.



Terrence Howard plays FBI agent in his sleep

The rest of the cast, in their smattering of small parts, are wonderfully overqualified for their roles; each performance rings with authenticity. Except for Redford and Jackie Evancho. I was afraid that Redford, who I have loved for a very long time, would too old for the part but Dobbs wrote in a line about Grant marrying a much younger woman which made the age factor less important.  Still there was something about Redford's performance that struck me as lacking. It was a question of connection. I missed it between Redford and Julie Christie and it wasn't there in Redford's scene with his young daughter Isabel; Jackie Evancho from Americas Got Talent. Instead Redford - as director - has Jackie 'act' adorably sardonic; and his father is- oh God am I really saying this -awkward; leaving the father/daughter interactions feeling forced.

Everyone else is really good though, and as I said, I did enjoy it.

Kudos to Dobbs for taking such a complex book and crafting such a good political thriller from it. The Company You Keep is in theaters now.


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