Film & TV

The Company You Keep, With Redford, Sarandon, and LaBeouf, Looks Back Lamely at ’60s Radicalism

It's time, apparently, for the aging ghosts of '60s radicalism to once again take stock of their sins and compromises. Once it gets its walkers moving, Robert Redford's The Company You Keep nearly plays like a green-granola-lefty counterpart to The Expendables, a Hollywood Elderhostel reunion crowded with septuagenarian icons looking back on the righteousness and failures of the Nixon–'Nam era with rheumy retirees' eyeballs. The story, from Neil Gordon's novel about the contemporary fate of a few surviving Weather Underground fugitives, all but blows a trumpet for how rad rad used to be. First Susan Sarandon's Vermont housewife, her kids all grown up, throws in the secret-identity towel and surrenders herself to the FBI; from there, the dominoes tumble, leading cub reporter Shia LaBeouf to uncover the similarly fake ID of Redford's upstate lawyer, sending this suede-faced ex-Weatherman running. The FBI closes in, LaBeouf's annoying snoop pesters every single other character motivated only by his journalistic creed, and withering guest stars (Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Richard Jenkins, a phlegm-plagued Nick Nolte) emerge to crinkle and wheeze about the good old days of bank robberies and protests. Redford's noble Methuselah isn't just self-preserving — he's got an unseasonably preadolescent daughter to worry about and a case for his own redemption to make. It's little surprise that The Company You Keep turns out to be politically chicken-hearted — the progressive cant we hear sounds idiotic, and political principles are seen as pathetic challenges to the demands of family and law and order. Redford succeeds only in defanging the idea of resistance altogether. Far from engaged, the film surrenders in an arthritic faint.
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Michael Atkinson is a regular film contributor at the Village Voice. His work also appears in the publications of the Voice’s film partner, Voice Media Group: LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.