The Company You Keep (2013)

Badly flawed

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on April 27, 2013 on tonymacklin.net.

Who is Adam M. Stone?

He represents the essence of The Company You Keep.

Is he the director? No, that's Robert Redford.

Is he the screenplay writer? No, that's Lem Dobbs.

Well, then who is Adam M. Stone if he's so important to the film?

Stone is the product placement coordinator. He's the one who made Esso, Dodge Jeep, USA TODAY, and all the other corporations so happy.

He's Robert Redford's right hand. Redford's left hand isn't there anymore.

Robert Redford - who once was an active liberal - is now a tired capitalist. He's also a worn-out egotist.

He pays lip service in The Company You Keep to what he once was, but he's now a fraud. In The Company You Keep, Redford betrays all he once stood for. I imagine Redford of the 1970s would mock Redford of 2013.

He's now a nearly-embalmed movie star who takes the easiest way out.

In The Company You Keep, it quickly becomes clear that Redford's egotism obliterates any reality.

Redford plays Jim Grant. His character is the father of an almost 12 year-old daughter (Jackie Evancho). Redford at 76 years of age should be the grandfather, not the father. But he won't play a grandfather, even though his character was 64 when his daughter was born.

In a later scene, Redford actually takes off his shirt. That's almost pitiful. You're still a sex magnet, Bobby.

Even though The Company You Keep is about political fugitives from the 1960s, it takes no risks. The film has no bite. It's as toothless as a sloppy old man. It's all gums, no teeth.

The Company You Keep is about Weathermen activists, who have been incognito for 30 years, since they were involved in the killing of a guard during a bank robbery. Don't worry, they've given up their values and become tame citizens, most of whom regret what they stood for, if they stood for anything.

One activist (Susan Sarandon) is arrested, as she is about to surrender, and the rest of her peers scramble for cover. Grant, who has been a lawyer (what else?) in Albany, New York for 30 years, has to escape the FBI and go in search of redemption, leaving his daughter behind.

Of course, he's guiltless. It's Robert Redford, you know.

He says things such as, "I didn't get tired. I grew up."

There are few believable moments in the entire film. It's a whitewash - no, it's a graywash.

Early in his acting career, I thought Redford might be destined to be the greatest movie actor of his generation. He had the courage - where has that gone? - to portray alienated characters. In Michael Ritchie's Downhill Racer (1969) and Rirchie's The Candidate (1972) Redford played shallow anti-heroes.

Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, and Redford embodied alienation, but in some ways Redford took the most chances. He was willing to create shallow characters. There was shallowness to his characters, but not to his acting. He dared to play superficiality.

In 1973 Redford became an unabashed movie star in the box office bonanza The Way We Were with Barbra Streisand. He never took chances again. He became a movie star.

Redford couldn't turn back. Commerciality turned him from actor into image.

Then Redford became a director. His early movies were character studies. Redford won an Oscar for directing the best picture Ordinary People (1980). Ironically it beat out Scorsese's Raging Bull, which is now arguably thought to be the best film of the decade.

Like so many other actors-turned-directors Redford rode the acting bloc in the Academy to Awards for Best Picture and Director, like Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, Ron Howard, Ben Affleck, et al.

Perhaps The Horse Whisperer (1997), which Redford starred in and directed, is the prime example of hubris. It's brimming with the image of Redford with a halo of light about his head, like a self-appointed saint.

The Company You Keep is graced by a remarkable cast, but only Susan Sarandon retains her humanity and authenticity. Her ex, Tim Robbins, might have made an effective Jim Grant. He might even have kept his shirt on and his motivation intact.

The other actors are sacrificed to weak writing. The screenplay by British-born Lem Dobbs from a novel by Neil Gordon, is weak, and makes characters say lines that are forced and rigged.

Absurdly, the film runs out of dialogue at the end. The characters are deep in conversation from afar. But we hear nothing.

In many scenes elevator music tries to pump up emotion. Dialogue and characterization be damned.

What is perhaps most disheartening is that Redford lived in the 1960s and 1970s, but you'd never know it. To see him completely blow his opportunity is dismaying.

But he knows what he's doing in The Company You Keep.

He knows that product placement doesn't like truth.


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