Film review: The Company You Keep

The Company You Keep

(M) ****

Director: Robert Redford.

Cast: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Jackie Evancho.

IT seems like Robert Redford has been in hiding for the past five years.

He hasn't acted since his painfully preachy 2007 dud Lions For Lambs, which he also directed, and his most recent film behind the camera was the little-seen 2010 box-office flop The Conspirator.

This all makes The Company You Keep a welcome return for the actor/director. Fittingly, it's about people in hiding and their attempts to atone for past mistakes (like, for example, making people sit through Lions For Lambs).

It centres on a trio of fugitives who have been on the run for 30 years due to their involvement in a bank robbery as members of the radical Weather Underground movement.

When one of the fugitives decides to break cover and hand themselves in to the FBI, journalist Ben Shepard (LaBeouf) picks up the story and begins to unravel the secrets and locations of the other two fugitives.

There are some great themes at play here and it poses some interesting questions. What happens when the activists of past eras grow up? And what happens if they don't? Mistakes of the past, lingering secrets, notions of honour and integrity, the greater good, personal sacrifice, conscience wrestling, protecting the ones we love - all these things are explored through a solid script based on Neil Gordon's 2003 novel.

We also get some great characters painted in delicate shades of grey. The key protagonists are people who were once involved in a terrorist organisation and a journalist whose morals are occasionally dubious.

None of this would work without a great cast, and that's where The Company You Keep really delivers. Redford, Christie, LaBeouf and Sarandon are excellent, but the role call of bit-players is stunning to say the least. Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Anna Kendrick, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, and Chris Cooper all pop up in only a handful of scenes, but each is important, each character feels wonderfully fleshed out in spite of limited screen time, and every actor succeeds.

There are some downsides. Unlike it's main characters, the film doesn't keep its secrets well, and you'll figure out where it's all going long before the big reveals.

It's also a tad slow in places, but not enough to be truly frustrating. The only parts that are likely to get on your nerves will be those involving LaBeouf's journalist - some of the things he does are either impulsive or infuriating, while his denouement is unsatisfying.

But these things shouldn't detract from your overall enjoyment of this slow-burning thriller.

Parts of it - the lingering stirrings of '60s-'70s radicalism, the unravelling of the research trail, the power of the media - are reminscent of the Redford-starring 1976 film, All The President's Men.

The Company You Keep will never match up to the tale of Woodward and Bernstein bringing down a president, but at least Redford applies some lessons learnt almost 40 years ago to great effect in a return to form.

Welcome back, Mr Redford.

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