Robert Redford’s latest directorial endeavour, The Company You Keep, is trying to say something about journalism. I’m just not sure what.
Redford plays Jim Grant, a small-town lawyer who was once a member of the Weather Underground, a radical sub-section of the Students for a Democratic Society.
He has long been wanted for a violent robbery committed by the group in the late ‘60s as a protest against the Vietnam War.
When Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) – another ex-member of the group – turns herself in, ambitious young reporter Ben Shepard (Shia Labeouf) discovers Grant’s true identity and he is forced to go on the run from the FBI.
Adapted from a screenplay by Lem Dobbs that was based on a novel by Neil Gordon, the film is a slow-paced thriller, absorbing from start to finish despite its retrained plot.
This is possibly because of an excellent cast assembled by Redford, though they tinge the film with a surprising and subtle humour that makes events seem at times unbelievable.
Leading this charge is Labeouf as Shepard. While both plausible as a young journalist and enigmatic on screen, his flair for the comedic felt at times out of place.
Redford himself brings a solid, if at time self-conscious performance – you certainly never forget its Robert Redford.
The film raises some interesting ideas about the fate of journalism in a world that heralds the pursuit of a story at all costs.
It is a human film, harping back to the days of ‘60s idealism and lamenting the loss of humanity in today’s cynical media environment.
Yet the fate of LaBeouf’s character raises some serious questions and provides no answers.
By the film’s end, Shepards only fault appears to be the desire to expose truth at all costs, an endeavour that is fundamentally democratic.
He never attempts to manipulate what he finds or exaggerate for the sake of a headline.
So is the film arguing that truth should be forsaken so that individuals don’t get hurt? That idealism is always better, and cynicism oft unsavoury?
I’m not quite sure, and this because the film never dares to find out. It brushes over issues without ever really sinking its teeth in.
Instead, the softness of its plot and its occasional slip into the humorous makes it feel a bit light.
Though it bills itself as a serious film, it instead sits somewhere in the middle; not quite entertaining enough to be a purely enjoyable movie, not quite insightful enough to be a serious or topical one.
The overall effect is a solid, yet somewhat forgettable, film.