I confess I haven’t thought much about Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep” — which finally opens in theaters tomorrow — since reviewing it at the Venice Film Festival seven months ago. Though it takes on the potentially incendiary subject matter of the Weather Underground, the film’s political ideas are handled as softly as the lighting on its veteran stars’ faces — but as an old-school Hollywood entertainment with a classy, cannily cast ensemble, it mostly delivers the goods. I’d call it Redford’s strongest directorial effort since 1994’s Oscar-nominated “Quiz Show,” though films like “Lions for Lambs” and “The Conspirator” have admittedly set the bar pretty low.
“Everyone is given something of a moral leg to stand on in Redford”s film, a rare example of a Hollywood thriller without any real bad guy,” I wrote back in September. “As washed-out, variously retired members of the Weather Underground, a terrorist network that carried out overly extreme acts of protest against the U.S. Government”s military policy in the late 1960s and 70s, Redford, Susan Sarandon and Julie Christie all project a kind of burning righteousness beneath a coat of autumnal regret … We don”t really want to see these burnished fighters-in-exile go down – not least because they”re Redford, Sarandon and Christie, and so uniformly well-preserved it seems a shame to lock them away.”
While we might have expected something a little tougher from a film written by Lem Dobbs (“The Limey”), “The Company You Keep” operates most effectively as an exercise in star power. Redford sells it on the screen, and he’s been selling it off the screen too — it’s a pleasure seeing the 76 year-old star back on the publicity circuit. (No, I can’t believe I just typed “76 year-old” either, but the math checks out.)
Nearly as enjoyable (and very nearly as long) as “The Company You Keep” is this live video interview with Redford and co-star Shia LaBeouf, conducted by the New York Times’s David Carr. Carr is, of course, a large personality in his own right — his old Carpetbagger persona is still much missed on the Oscar-reporting beat — and it’s fun watching him banter with Redford about the film, and plenty else besides.
There’s an interesting aside about “All the President’s Men,” and I loved their exchange about Redford’s struggle to get the reclusive Christie, herself something of a political firebrand, on board. (Carr: “I think it’s okay to admit that, just once in your career, you wanted Julie Christie to turn to you, eyes shiny with love, and look at you. And if she was paid to do it…”) Shia LaBeouf looks comparatively left out of proceedings, but that’s somewhat fitting: he may ostensibly be the film’s leading man, but it’s very much the old hands’ show.
The video isn’t available to embed, but you can check out the full interview on the Times’s site here. Will you be checking out “The Company You Keep” this weekend?