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Review: The Company You Keep

June 4, 2013

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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In 1981 a New York bank was robbed, resulting in the deaths of two police officers and a security guard. The armed robbery was carried out by members of the extremist group ‘Black Liberation Army’ and several members of the ‘Weather Underground’; the attack became known as ‘The Brink’s robbery of 1981’. The Company You Keep centres on members of the ‘Weather underground’ who took part in the robbery and have since gone into hiding, taking on new identities to avoid persecution. Nearly thirty years later and a member – Sharon Solarz finds herself rekindling an FBI investigation to find these members, including our protagonist Jim Grant played by Robert Redford.

Susan Sarandon continues to show her worth as now one of my favourite actresses in this small role as Sharon Solarz, a mother who has given up her identity to serve time for her crimes. Sharing a great scene with journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), she justifies her actions as a consequence of the escalation of violence in the Vietnam War. Ben quickly unearths the identity of Jim Grant as a member of the group, starting a hunt by the FBI. The FBI’s incompetence echoes throughout the film as Ben’s detective skills prove far more productive than the organisation, a misstep which undermines the films credibility.

Jim Grant has spent the last 30 years as a lawyer and has recently been widowed leaving him with his 11 year old daughter (Jackie Evancho). It’s his relationship with his daughter that should bring up the most tension as it’s what is on the line if he should be caught, but we don’t form a strong connection with them. Jim Grant isn’t unlikable or dull in fact he’s very likable but his resolve to clear his name and live a life with his daughter is lost on us because there is nothing interesting about him – he begins respectably and has nothing to learn. It’s also distracting once you know that Robert Redford was past 70 when he filmed this and to see him play a convincing healthy 50 year old is nothing short of remarkable!

Jim continues his escape from the law by travelling to New York to hand off his daughter with his brother, before starting a hunt for former ‘Weatherman’ and lover Mimi (Julie Christie), while Ben continues his hunt for Jim by pursuing former policeman Henry Osborne (Brendan Gleeson). Gleeson and Christie are accompanied by Nick Nolte, Terrence Howard, Brit Marling and others who have so much talent and play their roles so well it would be a shame to avoid these performances.

Ben and Jim provide the main thrust of the film. Jim’s hunt for Mimi while being hunted himself is brilliant to watch although it falters when his phone is tracked by the FBI, which has become so clichéd it loses the thrill and reduces any credibility in the story. Ben on the other hand provides all the character development in the film, starting off as a nosy and emotionless journalist with no regard to whom he hurts with his stories but by the end has seemingly learnt about empathy, especially when he develops feelings for Osborne’s daughter Rebecca (Brit Marling). Shia LaBeouf reminds us with this film his mettle as an actor surrounded by such great talents, as if his portrayal in Lawless didn’t have you convinced.

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The father/daughter relationship is believable and though the stakes could have been raised further it carries itself well and has an amazing cast recognisable by mature and younger audiences, especially those who remember Redford sauntering in Barefoot in the Park. The only fault is that the plot becomes too familiar in the middle before pushing things back into gear towards the end and relies to heavily on Shia’s character to develop and not Robert Redford’s. This is a very relaxed thriller which restrains itself a little too much leaving some desiring more while others will find it a suitable pace.

Sunny Ramgolam

The Company You Keep is released in cinemas this Friday 7 June.