Monday, April 8, 2013
The Company You Keep
What a cast. What a fucking cast. Get this: Robert Redford. Shia LaBeouf. Julie Christie. Susan Sarandon. Nick Nolte. Chris Cooper. Terrence Howard. Stanley Tucci. Richard Jenkins. Brendan Gleeson. Brit Marling. Sam Elliott. Anna Kendrick. Usually only Woody Allen can assemble so many talented actors willing to take scale to work with him, but Redford's called in a lot of chits and the results are enormously entertaining. What a pleasure it is to see every important role in a picture filled by someone with whom we feel an immediate connection and who can be counted on to deliver the goods.
The film opens with the capture after forty years of former Weather Underground revolutionary turned housewife and mother Sharon Solarz (a fictionalized version of ex-fugitive Sara Jane Olson), charged with murder for her role in an abortive robbery that resulted in the death of a guard at the Bank of Michigan. Solarz (Sarandon) seeks to hire Albany attorney Jim Grant (Redford), but he turns the case down. Local reporter Ben Shepard (LaBeouf) can't figure out why, and starts asking questions - lots of them. Too many for Grant, who himself goes on the lam, handing his daughter off to the brother he hasn't seen in years (Cooper) and paying a series of secretive visits to a loosely connected network of cohorts from his own past life, while both an FBI team (led by Howard) and Shepard (always one step ahead of the feds) chase him down.
A word must be said about Brit Marling in particular. Gene Siskel and the late Roger Ebert occasionally devoted an episode of their show to "new faces to watch," and Marling merits such singling out. As a screenwriter and actress, she made my honorable-mention list in both 2011 ("Another Earth") and 2012 ("Sound of My Voice"), and also played Richard Gere's daughter in "Arbitrage" last year. Here, she portrays the adopted daughter of one of the wealthiest and most connected men in Michigan, who comes to find out the unusual circumstances of her adoption. Marling has the ability - and the courage - to do something few actors can, which is to slow down and consider carefully what she wants to say - and how she wants to say it - before speaking. This talent imbues her characters with especial intelligence and interest, and makes me hang on her every word. I can't wait to see what she does, both in front of and behind the camera, over the next five to ten years.
Meanwhile, the most memorable scene in "The Company You Keep" involves Redford and Christie as the onetime radical Mimi Lurie, who's stayed underground for all these decades. They end up both making their way to a former hideout on Michigan's Upper Peninsula - close to Canada - and sharing a tense night and an extended and fairly acrimonious reminiscence, in which Christie chides Redford for having abandoned his youthful beliefs and Redford confronts Christie with the big question: whether those ideals, not only youthful but in some ways immature, were worth the pain they inflicted, not only on them but on innocent bystanders. In this scene, which Redford has bathed in the glow of a crackling fire, the movie suddenly looks twenty or thirty years older. The film stock itself looks like it had come too close to the flame. The effect is somehow oddly evocative. Redford is not just spouting leftist platitudes, as in his last film, the universally panned "Lions for Lambs." There is real pain and guilt and remorse and sadness in this scene and in this film.
"The Company You Keep" is a serious and solid piece of work.