The first thing that is likely to catch your eye about The Company You Keep, the latest directorial effort from Robert Redford, is the vast amount of star power it contains. I can’t recall having seen so impressive a cast for at least the last several years. Take a look at this list: Robert Redford, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Terrence Howard, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Anna Kendrick, and Sam Elliott. These names, most of whom have won or have been nominated for an Academy Award, would be enough to convince most people to give the film a shot, but then again, more details on the film couldn’t hurt.
The plot revolves around a group of ex-radicals known as the “Weather Underground.” A few decades ago, they staged numerous protests and even committed a number of violent acts, including a bank robbery. Years later, we find that they have moved on from their radical days and are living normal lives. Some of them have even started families. Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is one of these people. However, out of the blue, she decides to turn herself in to the police, which sparks an investigation from Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), a reporter for the Albany Sun Times.
His investigation leads him to Jim Grant (Robert Redford), a lawyer who rejected Solarz’s case. After a little more digging, Ben uncovers a startling truth: Jim Grant is actually Nick Sloan, another member of the Weather Underground. With his identity unveiled, Nick is forced to go on the run as he is wanted in connection with the bank robbery that led to the death of a security guard. As Ben continues to follow the story, he discovers more and more about Nick’s past, eventually leading him to question whether he had anything to do with the robbery at all.
It’s a really pleasant surprise to see Redford continuing to exercise his directing chops well into his 70s. His last efforts were the mostly-forgettable The Conspirator, which told of the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln, and Lions for Lambs, an intriguing multi-threaded tale revolving around soldiers in Afghanistan. With The Company You Keep, he shows that he’s lost none of his skill as he slowly builds the mystery and the tension lying underneath it all.
Did I mention the outstanding cast? Well, they’re worth mentioning again. Before screening the film, I knew next to nothing about it, and was only aware of Redford’s involvement. This made for an awful lot of surprises as approximately every 5-10 minutes I suddenly found myself thinking “Wow, that’s (insert star’s name here)!” Granted, with such a large cast, they don’t all get large parts, but it was a pleasure to see them all nonetheless. I even have to give credit to LaBeouf, who delivers one of his best, most believable performances yet. Sometimes it just takes the right material for an actor to show that he has some talent, or in his case, material that doesn’t involve giant, noisy robots smashing into each other.
As for the plot, it remains engaging throughout most of its runtime. Like most films, there are slumps here and there, but nothing that was truly detrimental to my enjoyment of it. As I mentioned, the mystery is built slowly, always filling us in on the details a little at a time, which I found was a good way to keep the audience absorbed in the story. Some of the twists are a little iffy, and you may have to ignore the questionable timeline of events, but if you can put these aside, you’ll probably find it equally engaging.
If there is one place The Company You Keep falters, it’s in the ending, which was softer and less impactful than I would have liked. These are major events for the former radicals, who are now being forced to come to terms with their past and make big decisions that will impact the rest of their lives. However, the ending merely happens in a snap, concluding things rather quickly. I’m not saying it should be a long, drawn-out ending, but rather that it should have felt as though there was more weight behind their choices.
The screenplay comes from Lem Dobbs, who adapted it from the novel by Neil Gordon. Dobbs has had a hit and miss career with films like Dark City (co-written with Alex Proyas and David S. Goyer), a film that nears greatness, but just misses the mark, and Haywire, a film whose plot matched its title. Strangely enough, all three of these films are ones with problematic endings. He’s shown that he definitely has a talent for screenwriting, but he’s also shown that he has a clear area that he needs to work on.
Overall, this is a film that works pretty well. It has its kinks, but thanks to a top-notch cast and an intriguing mystery that keeps the audience entertained, it ends up being worth the two-hour investment. Hopefully we’ll continue to see Redford utilize his directorial efforts into his 80s just like Clint Eastwood. He’s already taken an Oscar for his first effort behind the camera, Ordinary People, and was nominated again for the great Quiz Show nearly 20 years ago. For some of the greats, retirement is simply a four-letter word.
The film itself is presented in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that looks a little grainy throughout most of the film. It’s not enough to hurt the overall enjoyment of it, but it is noticeably not as sharp as one would expect. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, on the other hand, is flawless, with every sound coming through loud and clear.
As far as special features go, here’s what’s included on the disc:
- Behind The Scenes: The Movement, The Script, Preparation, and The Cast
- On The Red Carpet
- The Company You Keep Press Conference
Out of these extras, the only ones that are really worth watching are the behind the scenes featurettes, which feature lots of interviews with the cast and crew. In them, they discuss the various characters, the plot, what it was like to work with each other, and other interesting aspects about making the film. The press conference obviously has interviews as well, but it doesn’t really explore any new areas that the featurettes don’t already cover.
This release basically boils down to a decent film with decent special features, which is more than you can say about a lot of releases nowadays. If you enjoy a slowly-revealed mystery, then The Company You Keep should fit the bill pretty well for you, and yes I’m going to mention it one more time: the cast is enough to make any cinephile come running. If you do yourself a favor and give it a try, you just might find yourself caught up in it.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
The Company You Keep is an effective, slow-burning mystery, boasting one of the most impressive casts of the last few years.