"The Company You Keep" has the contours of a chase thriller and under another director, it could have been a tense action movie along the lines of director Tony Scott's "Spy Game" (which, liked this movie, has Robert Redford in the lead).
But Redford also is the director of "The Company You Keep," so this adaptation of Neil Gordon's novel (by "The Limey" screenwriter Lem Dobbs) is a more thoughtful, introspective drama about the choices of youth and the regrets of old age.
In upstate New York, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is arrested by the FBI after living secretly under another name for 30 years a fugitive from the Weather Underground, the radical antiwar group that bombed government buildings and robbed banks mostly in the 1970s. Sharon's arrest draws the attention of Ben Shepard (Shia Labeouf), an eager young reporter in Albany, who starts digging around and finds a link to a local attorney, Jim Grant (played by Redford).
Grant wants nothing to do with Shepard; he wants only to help his clients and care for his 12-year-old daughter, Isabel (Jackie Evancho). But as Ben starts digging deeper, he uncovers Grant's secret: He's actually Nick Sloan, another Weather Underground member who's been in hiding since a Michigan bank robbery that left a security guard dead.
Grant/Sloan goes into action, heading to New York to leave Isabel with his long-estranged brother Daniel (Chris Cooper) before embarking on a cross-country trek with the Feds on his tail to clear his name. To do so, he must find another fugitive, Mimi (Julie Christie), the only person who could clear him in the bank-robbery case.
During his trek, Grant/Sloan encounters a rogue's gallery of aged character actors, including Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Richard Jenkins and Brendan Gleeson. Meanwhile, Ben gets to meet younger, cuter supporting players namely, a young FBI agent (Anna Kendrick) and a police chief's daughter (Brit Marling).
Redford structures Dobbs' script into a series of dialogues, and from those conversations come the ideas Redford wants to explore. There is banter about the carelessness of modern journalism and the short-sightedness of current politics.
What really gets Redford fired up is a serious examination of how the ideals of his generation of antiwar radicals were right, though their tactics were wrong. It's a dichotomy that may be too subtle for talk radio in fact, many right-wing writers have slagged Redford as an "apologist" for what they label left-wing terrorists. But it's an uncomfortable idea that builds more tension into "The Company You Keep" than an average car chase could have.
'The Company You Keep'
Director-star Robert Redford constructs a thinking man's thriller, looking back at antiwar radicalism and the regrets of its practitioners.
Where • Area theaters.
When • Opens Friday, April 26
Rating • R for language.
Running time • 121 minutes.