There are two films battling for the soul of Robert Redford's newest directorial effort, and the "good" side wins the bout by a hair's width. The contender is the earnest but somewhat plodding, conventionally well-made political thriller, thankfully edged out in the nick of time by a quietly lucid drama about times changing and people taking precedence over politics (which makes The Company You Keep sound like something the great but lately uneven André Téchiné might have done).

     In a way, it's pretty valid to ask what another director, more dynamic and less stolid, might have done with this material; absent the late Sydney Pollack and Alan Pakula, not many contemporary filmmakers would go for such an overtly political tale, adapted from Neil Gordon's novel. But Steven Soderbergh would probably be a good fit, seeing as the film was scripted by one of his regular accomplices, Lem Dobbs, who sets the film running in two parallel yet converging narrative tracks that keep shining lights into the other's corners. Tyro reporter Shia Labeouf uncovers the real identity of esteemed Albany lawyer (played by Mr. Redford himself) as a 1970s radical activist wanted by the FBI for an ill-fated heist that ended with a dead security guard. On one side, Mr. Redford goes on the run across the country to finally shed light on the facts and clear his name, in search of an old flame and comrade-in-arms (Julie Christie). On the other, Mr. Labeouf's reporter, realising he messed with a wasp's nest, starts realising there's more to this story than seems at first and, digging deeper, uncovers a whole other truth than what he was expecting.

     To his credit, Mr. Redford keeps the tale on the straight and narrow, his (and editor Mark Day's) cutting choices keeping the narratives taut and clear (even at the expense of surprise, since at some point the twists start becoming pretty visible). But his major advantage for this project is that he actually lived through those 1970s, and he was one of the faces of 1970s Hollywood liberalism. Mr. Redford can give it the added gravitas of experience, not just it in his own aged features but also in his pitch-perfect guiding of an equally veteran cast dealing with "the way they were" and the way they are now. "We've turned into our parents", it's said at one point in the film, and that is what makes The Company You Keep both poignant and resonant: it's a story about accepting one's age and one's life, explaining why the scenes with Mr. Labeouf as the callow reporter who learns about life and the FBI crew in pursuit don't ring as true. They're just perfunctory set-up material to get Mr. Redford where he wants to go, and that is to ask who have we become, what have our beliefs and our lives led us into. It's there that The Company You Keep wins: as a story about people rather than about politics.

Cast: Robert Redford, Shia Labeouf, Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Brit Marling, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Susan Sarandon
Director: Mr. Redford
Screenplay: Lem Dobbs, from the novel by Neil Gordon, The Company You Keep
Cinematography: Adriano Goldman  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Cliff Martinez
Designer: Laurence Bennett
Costumes: Karen Matthews
Editor: Mark Day
Producers: Nicolas Chartier, Mr. Redford, Bill Holderman (Voltage Pictures and Wildwood Enterprises in association with Film Capital Europe Funds, Soundford and Picture Perfect Corporation)
USA/Canada/France, 2012, 122 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 1 (Lisbon), April 2nd 2013


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