In its 2 hour run-time The Company You Keep chews through more support characters, romantic subplots, stories of betrayal & intimidation and the obligatory melodrama than an entire season of 90210.
The basic plot goes something like this – Jim Grant (Robert Redford) is a recently widowed small-town lawyer. Grant is approached by young local journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LeBeouf), Shepard believes Grant is secretly working for a 70s radical group called The Weather Underground. Shepard’s questioning pushes Grant’s secret life to come public, with Shepard discovering that Grant is Nick Sloan, the leader of the group. With Shepard and the FBI in toe, Sloan decides to go on the run.
This is the first 10 minutes of plot in a 2 hour film. To say The Company You Keep is plot heavy is a huge understatement. Sloan going on the run sparks a chain of events as he races across the country trying to clear his name. He uses every past contact he can think of to reach his end goal. Each new character brings up old secrets about Sloan’s past.
The audience is given very little reason to care though, with some of these characters hating Sloan and some willing to die for him. They give no indications on why they feel this way, but spend lots of time discussing it. It raises a lot of questions in the viewer’s mind and the film moves at such a fast pace that it never lets your mind slow down and digest every subplot. It always feels like footage has been left on the cutting room floor, that the final product is not what was originally intended.
The cast is no doubt impressive and they give it their all, but they are unnecessary and add nothing to the overall experience. Aside from Redford and LaBeouf, everybody is a supporting character that generally gets about 5 minutes. Nolte provides decent comedy relief, Gleeson is solid as a troubled cop, Jenkins gives his ferocious best and Sarandon sadly gives her best performance in years, in a better production she’d be awards worthy. The rest of the cast are completely wasted.
If I can praise Robert Redford for one thing it is his casting of Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf has been ‘coming’ for a long time and with this role it feels like he has finally arrived. He has shrugged off the blockbusters and has a host of important films hitting screens over the next year. This is a great starting point and it is by far his best performance. The sky is the limit for LaBeouf.
The Company You Keep is not a tight political thriller; it is convoluted and riddled with plot holes. Each scene raises more unanswered questions and tracking the subplots and extensive array of characters gets more and more difficult with each passing minute. Despite all the complaints about plot and characters, Redford does mine out an exciting film, one that has good tension and a few surprises. It isn’t completely bad, more of a missed opportunity.
2.5 out 5.0