The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

June 26, 2013

Should You Spend Time with The Company You Keep?

By Roger Thomas
CNHI News Service

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 — The trailer for “The Company You Keep” wants to impress us with the pedigree of the actors who populate this film. A list appears at the end of the previews that acknowledges the accomplishments of many of the stars. It is a stellar cast. If I counted this right, there are nine Academy Award nominated actors in the film. Collectively this cast has 18 Oscar nominations and three wins. Add to that list a twice-nominated director, Robert Redford, who has a Best Director Oscar on his shelf. If past awards meant anything, “The Company” would be the frontrunner for this year’s Awards.

Alas, that will not be the case. There are moments in this film that work well. Most of the aforementioned actors are basically doing cameos, and some of them have powerful or at least effective scenes. There are a few action sequences that almost seem inspired. But in the end, the film fails.

This is a film about a fictional domestic terrorist event. Viewers do not witness the past action that left one person dead but rather only hear it discussed. The mystery of the film is about whether or not one of the major characters was or was not involved in the event. A young reporter is trying to find the answer to that question. During his investigation, he turns over a few other stones as well. None of these revelations amounts to much, and the only suspense comes when the protagonist of the story may get arrested before he can clear his name. That suspense wears thin quickly.

I think the greatest weakness of the film is the lack of serious conversations. Make no mistake, “The Company You Keep” is a dialogue-filled film. Someone is talking in almost every frame. Each of the prestigious cast members gets a speech. Some of the battles of words work well like the first conversation between the reporter (Shia Labeouf) and director Robert Redford’s character, Jim Grant. They have the best scene in the film.     

However, I wish the film had taken more risks. The screenplay tiptoes around the terrorism issue. There should have been more heated debates about politics. There should have been more discussions about the morality of past actions, or one character that truly asserted pacifism over violence. A better film might have been to gather all these fine actors in a room, playing the same characters and debating the issues that are only slightly mentioned. Certainly all films do not have to be political or even have messages, but “The Company You Keep” seems to want to do both, and yet also wants to appeal to a larger audience, and finally ends up failing on all counts.   

Do not misunderstand me. There are plenty of films playing right now that are worse than “The Company You Keep.” But none of those contain so much talent. I would almost watch many of these actors read their grocery list. I just kept hoping their slight roles in this crowded movie would offer something a little more captivating.  

After nearly two months playing in a theater near you, “The Company You Keep”  grossed only $4.5 million. Obviously, word of mouth is not generating a lot of attention. Perhaps others feel as I do, all that talent with almost nowhere to go.  

Director Robert Redford has given us some good films through the years; my favorites would be “Ordinary People” (which garnered him his directing Oscar), ‘Quiz Show” and “A River Runs Through It.” Here’s to hoping he gathers up another great cast and makes a more thought-provoking film.

Roger Thomas reviews films for The Stanly News & Press and thesnaponline.com.