Film Review: THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (directed by Robert Redford)

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by Kevin Bowen on April 12, 2013

in Film

WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?

Things begin in the 60s in Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep. A group of radicals knock off a bank in Michigan. The ringleader, shown in dusty old FBI wanted posters, looks remarkably like The Sundance Kid.

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema review of THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

Who are those guys? That’s the question the Feds are asking, and they have asked for more than 30 years. More accurately, where are those guys? The robbers long ago blended into America. When one surrenders to authorities after living for decades as a New York housewife (Susan Sarandon), the falling dominoes flush a lawyer (Robert Redford) out of hiding and onto the road. On their heels is also a young, aggressive newspaper reporter (Shia LaBeouf) WHO. ONLY. WANTS. THE. TRUTH.

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema review of THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

The Company You Keep is something like the American love child of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Bank Job.  It’s the same sort of veteran gathering of aging stars and The Respected But Not Quite Famous. At some point you start wondering when Richard Jenkins is going to show up, because you know Richard Jenkins is going to show up. Well, he doesn’t disappoint, playing a graying radical who has retreated into a classroom.

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema review of THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

Are the 60s dead? Not if we keep choosing to relive them. Coming to terms with the sixties sometimes seems like the Baby Boomers sole mission, as if when the meaning is finally discovered they can all finally drink the hemlock in peace. All of this exploration seems to be running in circles now. The conventional wisdom about what the whole thing meant hasn’t changed much since, well, the 60s.

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema review of THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

As we move further away from that decade, the remaining stories seem unable to escape the coloring of the wisdom of age. But is this wisdom or merely exhaustion? Is there any way to fulfill the 60s through the regrets of old men and women? Will the stories improve once they are told from the perspective of those who weren’t around to experience those turbulent years personally? Can movies make it feel like what it was once again?

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema review of THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

As a director, Redford’s touch is admirably mature and gentle, yet weakly straightforward and dutiful. The people are mild. There is no warped mood of desperation, no feeling of things barely being kept a lid on. When Redford and Julie Christie finally meet on an idyllic lake in Michigan, you wonder if a more artful interpretation might have spent two hours on this moment – a movie of memory, choices and regret, isolated in natural beauty.

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema review of THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

Refugee hippie stories draw their power from an explosive relationship with the past, the great chasm of feeling like a sellout, the lingering power we feel toward the myths of our youth. With a film that has such emotionally high-powered content – with questions of death, politics, justice and returning pasts – shouldn’t it deliver more than a mystery filmed with grandfatherly ease?

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema review of THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

photos by Sony Pictures Classics

The Company You Keep
Sony Pictures Classics, Voltage Pictures
rated PG-13
in limited release on April 12, 2013

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