Screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, Robert Redford's The Company You Keep succeeds as an entertaining thriller, but focuses too much on the adventurous journalist instead of the characters at the core of the film.
Redford's ninth film as director also places him in front of the camera, playing a lawyer hoping to clear his name. The Company You Keep adds elements of The Fugitive to keep the suspense sharp, and Redford experts curates an A-list cast. But the film's focus wavers, as it leans on the story of an intrepid journalist too much.
The Albany Sun-Times reporter (Shia LaBeouf) is on the hunt for a story to elevate his career, and he finds it when a member of the 1960s radical antiwar group the Weather Underground is finally caught by the FBI 30 years later. Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is one of three fugitives from the Bank of Michigan robbery in which a bank guard was killed. Reporter Ben Shepard links her to Jim Grant (Redford) and begins to uncover more ties that bind.
The story splits screen time between LaBeouf and Redford, trying to eke out a story on the thrills and pitfalls of modern-day journalism. It doesn't work. Instead, the film should have focused more on Grant's past and current run from the law, as he tries to find the other fugitive Mimi (Julie Christie), whereabouts unknown.
Since Grant's past life is so mysterious, little light is shed on the man behind the mask. Viewers want to know about his deceased wife, what drew him to activism, what made him what he is today. Devoting too much story to the reporter detracts from Grant's all-important background.
The Company You Keep shines with the cat-and-mouse chase is central to the action, instead of Shepard combing through library archives to uncover more about Grant's past. It's been done, and it's not very exciting, even for a journalist like myself.
Susan Sarandon in The Company You Keep
Thankfully, a well-rounded cast makes up for several missteps. Nick Nolte, Stanley Tucci, Anne Kendrick and Terence Howard make the most of their brief screen time, packing a wallop with the dialogue writer Lem Dobbs gives them.
Redford also deserves praise for playing a difficult role, while doing double-duty as director. He plays Jim with enough built-up tension and conflicting emotions to have us rooting for him throughout the film, even when the story shifts to Shepard's story.
A fine film to keep you entertained, but the film won't stick in your head for too long.
For other film reviews from TIFF, go here.