If you are of a certain generation-- Robert Redford’s generation, or a bit younger-- you will be well-aware that, back in the 1960s and 70s, there were political activists who did not just march on Washington or on their college campuses to oppose the war in Vietnam, say, or protest the everyday greed or racism that was so imbedded in American life. Instead, they tossed bombs or robbed banks or burned draft cards. And then, to avoid arrest and long jail sentences, they went into hiding, changed their names and identities, and blended in with the masses.
RoThe story of one such band of protesters is told in THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, a new film directed by and starring Redford. He plays the film’s central character, a widowed lawyer who specializes in “public interest” cases. He is raising his 11-year-old daughter, and he also is harboring a secret. Three decades earlier, he was a dissenter who supposedly was involved in a holdup that ended in the death of a bank guard. He’s been in hiding ever since but, now, his life is about to abruptly change.
On one level, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is designed as a generic man-on-the-lam Hollywood thriller and, as such, the film is, well, weak. There are plot holes and inconsistencies galore, too many to even begin to mention here. However, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is worth seeing because of the issues it raises and the questions it asks. Among them are: Is there any difference between today’s terrorists-- for example, the two who allegedly were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings-- and the characters depicted in THE COMPANY YOU KEEP?
This one can be debated long into the night. But one point is made clear here. Many of the young people who were radicalized during the Vietnam war era were passionately political. They were not just a bunch of doped-up hippies.
Another more general question is: How does one’s youthful behavior impact on one’s present, adult life and, in particular, how will it affect one’s children? In other words, once you have kids, how does the game change-- and what will be your legacy to your offspring?
Still another question is: Should only big-city, high-profile journalists be taken seriously as reporters? One of the characters in THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is an aggressive young reporter for a fictional newspaper, the Albany Sun-Times. He is dissed for being “small-town” and “small-time,” yet he out-hustles all his competitors in his coverage of the goings-on. Also, regarding the contemporary media, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP pointedly lambastes the shoddy journalism that is all-too-prevalent today, as well as journalists who are less concerned with reporting the truth and more interested in making money, gaining power, and conjuring up self-serving stories that only will advance their careers.
And finally, here is a brief word about THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, which may be linked to THE COMPANY YOU KEEP in that it is set in upstate New York and deals with parental responsibility. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES contrasts the lives of two men, a motorcycle stunt rider who becomes a bank robber in order to support his infant son and an ambitious young police officer who is awash in a world of corruption.
At its core, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is a tale of fathers and sons, and what fathers do or do not do for their offspring. Simply put, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is a riveting, well-acted and directed film that drew me in from its very first shot and kept me engrossed throughout.
And it already has secured a spot on my ten-best-films list for the year.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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