The Company You Keep Reviews
"The Company You Keep" is one of those complex thrillers with some twists and turns, that just doesn't work out quite like it could have. I dunno what it was about it, but I didn't think it was as good as it could have been. It stars Shia LeBeouf as a reporter who learns the true identities of fugitives who had committed a murder 30 years prior. It weaves back and forth between him trying to find the truth, and one of fugitives trying to clear his name to remain with his daughter. The fugitive in question is played by Robert Redford(who also directs) and man he is still great after all these years. He has that "movie star" quality that a lot of actors just don't have anymore. The cast is great, even LeBeouf does a good job. Susan Sarandon, Sam Elliot, Terrance Howard, Richard Jenkins, among others round out the stellar cast. But the pacing and subject matter just don't really sustain(at least for me). I think if it focused more on Redford, and less on LeBeouf, it would have been better. But then again, it would have been a completely different movie. I love a good political type thriller(for example, "Ides of March" was pretty good)but this was just "meh". Maybe it was when I watched it(kind of late at night) and just wasn't as interested as I could have been. Maybe on a second viewing I will like it more. I can see why people will like it, because it is a smart movie. But at the same time, I can see how it will be off putting for others. Worth a rental? Sure, judge for yourself. But I'd pick up a spare movie just in case;-)
When actors turn their hand to directing, it usually results in a certain style of film-making, one more concerned with acting and dialogue than visual story-telling. A film directed by someone more comfortable in front of, rather than behind, the camera, usually resembles an episode of a T.V show in its aesthetic. There are, of course, a few exceptions; Vincent Gallo's 'Buffalo 66', Mel Gibson's 'Apocalypto', and Charles Laughton's 'Night of the Hunter' are immensely cinematic. Usually, however, actor-directors prefer to keep things simple. As a director, Robert Redford's films have, for the most part, resembled edited versions of T.V mini-series. 'The Company You Keep' continues this trend.
It's easy to see why Redford was drawn to Lem Dobbs' script, as it combines the plot-lines of two movies he appeared in during his acting heyday of the seventies. The procedural element of a journalist digging deeper into a story despite much opposition is straight out of 'All the President's Men', while the man-on-the-run story-line feels like a geriatric update of his role in 'Three Days of the Condor'. The former is a gripping drama, arguably the best movie ever made concerning journalism. The latter is a fun thriller in the style of Hitchcock.
Redford fails to combine the two into a satisfying whole. His movie is at its best when focusing on LeBouef's investigation, as the young star gives his most mature performance to date, shaking off the baggage of the 'Transformers' series. Watching Redford's attempts to escape capture at times provokes unintended laughter, with the 76 year-old hopping over fences like it's 1973 again.
Ultimately, the film is saved from disaster by the impressive cast assembled by Redford. Just when things start to get dull, another quality character actor like Brendan Gleeson, Stanley Tucci, or Chris Cooper turns up to get you through the next couple of scenes. It's a story which needs more fleshing out though, and the final 30 minutes attempt to cram a little too much in too short a time in order to wrap up sub-plots. Add an extra hour to develop things and this could have made a decent two-part T.V mini-series, rather than a rushed and schizophrenic feature film.
While a little judicious editing would have done wonders, especially with the anti-climactic ending, "The Company You Keep" does have a once in a lifetime cast that always keeps things interesting, even if the story does not do the same.(It would take less time to list who is not in the movie than who is.) Overall, that allows for different perspectives on the same events. Specifically and surprisingly, Shia LaBeouf holds his own, at least until Brit Marling shows up on the screen and right before Richard Jenkins gives Robert Redford acting lessons.
As far as issues go, the movie is less interested in politics than the current state of the newspaper business, often crossing the line between trying to impart knowledge and haranguing.(I'm still trying to decide how ironic the ubiquitous product placement is supposed to be.) A lot of the target of this is Shepard, as he tracks down the story and collects the facts. But isn't that what he is supposed to be doing as a reporter?
The film tells the story of a family man who, through a seemingly inexplicable series of events, finds himself exposed as a fugitive of a militant leftist group. The film follows both the man (Redford), and the journalist on his trail. Though this sort of trope is familiar, that of the young budding journalist with an uncanny ability to put the pieces together, the film did a generally good job of not telegraphing where it was going to go, at least immediately. The problem is that the script bogs down the film in the mid to later acts with a plot that feels terribly overwritten, and an ending that feels strangely too simplistic. Interesting plot lines are raised, but never paid off, the resolutions that do occur never feel well earned. This is a symptom of unpolished script writing, as well as a lack of focus with Redford's direction. Redford seemingly wanted to do a lot of things, but never excelled at one thing. Thus, the film feels incomplete as a drama, and certainly incomplete as a thriller.
The performances, to be sure, are characteristically strong, especially by Redford. We are treated to these characters in a very old-school, almost clinical manner, and are therefore left to wonder about the motivations involved, which does make for some interesting character dynamics. The pace is slow, but consistently slow, and befitting of the material. Technically it's well made, and never boring (occasionally tedious perhaps). As such, it does enough right to keep you interested, but ultimately does fall in to that ever-frustrating category of "it could've been more".
On a positive, Redford casted a really great ensemble. Julie Christie steals the film. Sarandon is great when she is on screen. Same goes with Richard Jenkins. Solid supporting work also here from Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Sam Elliot, and Anna Kendrick.
On a negative, Shia LaBeouf is miscast here. He feels out of place. He is no match to Redford or Sarandon, when he is on screen with them. It is like he is doing a bad John Cusack impersonation in this movie. Another actor in that role would have been so much better. I think Jessie Eisenberg would have been good in that role. I also didn't like that small flirtation between his character and Brit Marling's character. It feels out of place here. Also I would have like to have seen more as to why Sarandon turned herself in. The pacing is also off here.
Overall, I definitely recommend the film especially for the performances.
It was a nice little ride towards what appeared to be an interesting ending, but
the ending ruined the film a bit for me. It seems they tried to wrap it up into a nice little package. It seemed too constricted to me.
Otherwise a solid movie, great cast (besides of course LaBeouf); the interview scene with Susan Sarandon was totally unneeded, the only reason its in the movie is because its Susan Sarandon.