By Joan Ellis
Don’t dare to miscast a movie that’s rooted in a true story.
For The Company You Keep, the filmmakers have assembled a cast of four Academy Award winners and five nominees with an abundance of talent and quiet self-confidence that allows them to melt beautifully into the relatively small roles that shape the whole. Together they build enormous tension around the story of the Weather Underground activists who leapt onto the front pages in the ’60s.
That tumultuous decade ended in a spasm of violence over Vietnam, the draft and government lies. It all morphed into illegal spying on U.S. citizens, the draft riots, suppression of dissent and finally, the Watergate scandal. While this chaos engulfed the country, the Weathermen emerged as an arm of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and promptly declared war on the U.S. government. Their acts – bombings of the Pentagon, the Capitol and the State Department – were preceded by telephoned evacuation warnings that prevented loss of life, but in 1981, former members held up an armored Brinks truck, killing a security guard.
Thirty years later, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) crosses the border into New York State and surrenders to police in the opening scene of Company. Her surrender attracts the attention of the Albany Sun Times Editor Ray Fuller (Stanley Tucci) who sends reporter Ben Shepard (Shia Le Beouf) in pursuit of the story. Shepard’s pursuit leads to fugitives Nick Sloane (Robert Redford) and Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie).
Nick reaches out to his brother (Chris Cooper) and to others played by Richard Jenkins and Sam Elliott. None of them wants to become re-involved after three decades, but loyalty pulls and each will help Nick in some small way. Through three decades, the network loyalty held fast while the fugitives built separate lives without staying in touch. They revealed nothing. As FBI agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) said, “They’re pros, they know how to hide.”
Building on the truth of the tale, the filmmakers shape the movie around the reporter’s search and also the long ago love story between Nick and Mimi. The questions they hang over us all: Who is guilty of what? How far must protest go to be heard? Does protest ever justify violence?
We remember Vietnam and we think of Iraq.
On one level this movie offers the tension of an activist on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity; on another it gives us the pleasure of watching this gifted cast interpret complex characters in a morality tale. Together they do what only gifted actors can, they pull us right up there into the story in the best white-knuckled way. Can anyone resist the fun of seeing Julie Christie after so many years? It’s rumored that she tends her garden in England. It’s a breathtaking leap from that garden to the role of terrorist Mimi Lurie. And watch for an old-fashioned idealist’s dream of an ending.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.