At this stage in his life, it appears that Robert Redford only directs and stars in a movie where he feels a personal connection. It's been five years since he last graced the big screen in the political talker "Lions for Lambs," and it took another film that blends politics and people -- "The Company You Keep" -- to get him back into theaters.
A handful of '60s radicals -- that called themselves the Weather Underground -- have traded their revolutionary ways for more traditional suburban lives. They might have lived in hiding had it not been for one member (Susan Sarandon) having an epiphany that leads to her capture. Her actions send out a ripple through the lives of her fellow protestors, who went into hiding after one of their bombings at a bank to protest the Vietnam War resulted in a death.
The world of Jim Grant (Redford) and his 12-year-old daughter (Jackie Evancho) comes crashing down. His only hope of rebuilding his life is to set the record straight about what happened at the bank, which means seeking out other former radicals.
The screenplay by Lem Dobbs, based on the novel by Neil Gordon, brushes against some of the politics and policies that made young people a half-century ago feel the only way they could help was to be as loud as possible in their protests. There's no real insights, just the kind of war stories friends tell over a couple of drinks.
One of the biggest problems is the odd timeline. This is obviously a contemporary setting, with the biggest clue the continued discussions of how journalism and newspapers are dying. Yet, it constantly mentions the events that sent the activists underground occurred 30 years ago. That would only be the early '80s.
That time shift was probably sparked by a parallel story of Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), a reporter who uncovers secrets faster than the FBI. He's more of a narrator than participant, whose sole purpose is to ask questions that keep the story moving ahead. A weak attempt at a potential love angle -- that would never have happened had the time element been right -- isn't enough to make the character as interesting as the story he's following.
The strength comes from veteran actors like Sarandon, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Sam Elliott, Stephen Root and Redford. Except for Redford, they only have small scenes. But each actor brings so much power that they make their moments count. "The Company You Keep" proves that when it comes to good acting, it really is about the company actors keep.
Redford handles the pressure of being both director and star with the same energy and passion that's been a trademark of his career. He knows how to get the most out of a scene -- even if it's just two people talking -- while keeping his performance focused. His pacing is a little slow, except for an ending that feels rushed.
He still manages to tell an interesting story of family painted against a political backdrop. It's not going to spark any great movements, but it is worth a sit in at the local theater.
"The Company You Keep,"<\strong> rated R for language. Stars Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon, Jackie Evancho. Directed by Robert Redford. Running time: 125 minutes. Grade: B-
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.