What happens when '60s radicals go underground, take on new identities, and resurface to live downright suburban lives?
So many of us can look back at different eras of our lives and say that we were different people, but for some members of groups like the Weather Underground, it's quite literally true. The Company You Keep takes its cues from those members of the Underground who left the group and remained fugitives, whether literally on the run or figuratively, with new names and lives. What's especially interesting is that these radical leftists, who some have called terrorists, are now our parents and grandparents, our lawyers and professors, living normal — one might even say bourgeois — lives.
That's the case with Jim Grant (Robert Redford), an upstanding citizen, father, and lawyer who takes on the sort of do-gooder cases that are usually the bread and butter of avowed bleeding hearts and not well-to-do widowers. When a former Weather Underground member named Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) turns herself in, the story falls in the lap of Ben Shepard, a hungry young reporter played by a bespectacled and smarmy Shia LaBeouf. Once Ben starts sniffing around, Jim's guard goes up, which only makes the journalist more curious. What unfurls is a network of former Weathermen, some of whom still live under the radar and on the run, and others that left the group before things got too hairy. None of them are particularly thrilled to see their former comrade come calling, either. Ben's trying his damndest to stay on top of the story even as the trail takes him across the country, but Jim's one step ahead of him. The question is what he's running away from or, as Ben suspects, towards.
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The Company You Keep gives up its secrets too readily. Sharon Solarz is more than happy to grant her only jailhouse interview to Ben so she can expound on her radical values, though it's not clear why she was planning to give herself up or how the FBI managed to catch her beforehand. The FBI agents are just a tad too cartoonish, like Terrence Howard's suspicious Agent Cornelius and Anna Kendrick's Diana, who helps Ben out a little simply because he's the kind of jackass who would ask a former flame for such a favor. Other flourishes get lost in the mix; there are nods to the changing landscape of journalism, like Ben's harried boss played by Stanley Tucci, and a truncated subplot that gives you the feeling something was left on the cutting room floor, to the detriment to the story.
It's hard to deny the gravitas of Robert Redford, whether as a patron of the arts, a director, or an actor. His strength of character lends The Company You Keep an air of seriousness that benefits this promising thriller, but neither he nor the impressive cast can keep this film moving. Some of the scenes are wonderfully tense, but the energy lags when the focus shifts to Ben's storyline. He does get journalism points for using a microfiche reader, though.
The movie already clocks in at 125 minutes, so some of Jim's cross-country travels could have been trimmed. The quality of the filmmaking, from cinematography to the music by Cliff Martinez, is hard to find fault with, but The Company You Keep doesn't linger after the credits roll.
[Photo Credit: Sony Classics]
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Steven Soderbergh's crime-drama "The Limey" and Alexander Payne's high school satire "Election" led the pack of (relatively) low-budget, high-expectation projects as nominations were announced Wednesday for the 15th Annual Independent Spirit Awards, honoring, yes, indie film.
"The Limey" and "Election" received a field-best five nominations each. Hollywood blockbusters such as "Toy Story 2" and "The Green Mile" received zippo. (They're not indies.)
With the studio heavyweights excluded, a variety of films that failed to garner tremendous box office during the 1999 film season found redemption as the Spirit nominations were handed down. David Lynch's "The Straight Story", a simple yet powerful film about an aging man's trek across country on his lawn mower, earned four nominations. Kimberly Peirce's controversial "Boys Don't Cry" also received four nods -- including ones for best lead actress (Hilary Swank) and best supporting female (Chloe Sevigny).
The five films slated to do battle in the main best-picture event are: Payne's "Election," Soderbergh's "The Limey," Lynch's "The Straight Story," Allison Anders and Kurt Voss' "Sugar Town", and Robert Altman's "Cookie's Fortune".
Awards will be handed out in Santa Monica on March 25 -- the day before the Oscars. The Spirits are sponsored by the Independent Feature Project/West.
The following is the complete list of nominations for the 15th annual IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards:
BEST FEATURE "Election" "The Straight Story" "The Limey" "Cookie's Fortune" "Sugar Town"
BEST FEMALE LEAD Diane Lane, "Walk on the Moon" Janet McTeer, "Tumbleweeds" Hilary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry" Susan Traylor, "Valerie Flake" Reese Witherspoon, "Election"
BEST MALE LEAD John Cusack, "Being John Malkovich" Richard Farnsworth, "The Straight Story" Terence Stamp, "The Limey" David Strathairn, "Limbo" Noble Willingham, "The Corndog Man"
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE Barbara Barrie, "Judy Berlin" Vanessa Martinez, "Limbo" Sarah Polley, "Go" Chloe Sevigny, "Boys Don't Cry" Jean Smart, "Guinevere"
BEST SUPPORTING MALE Charles S. Dutton, "Cookie's Fortune" Luis Guzman, "The Limey" Terrence Howard, "The Best Man" Clark Gregg, "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole" Steve Zahn, "Happy, Texas"
BEST DIRECTOR Alexander Payne, "Election" Harmony Korine, "julien donkey-boy" Steven Soderbergh, "The Limey" David Lynch, "The Straight Story" Doug Liman, "Go"
BEST SCREENPLAY Kevin Smith, "Dogma" Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, "Election" Audrey Wells, "Guinevere" Lem Dobbs, "The Limey" James Merendino, "SLC Punk!"
BEST FIRST FEATURE ($500,000-plus budget) "Being John Malkovich" "Three Seasons" "Boys Don't Cry" "Twin Falls Idaho" "Xiu Xiu the Sent Down Girl"
BEST FIRST FEATURE (less than $500,000 budget) "The Blair Witch Project" "La Ciudad" "Compensation" "Judy Berlin" "Treasure Island"
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE Kimberly J. Brown, "Tumbleweeds" Jessica Campbell, "Election" Jade Gordon, "Sugar Town" Toby Smith, "Drylongso" Chris Stafford, "Edge of Seventeen"
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY Tod Williams, "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole" Charlie Kaufman, "Being John Malkovich" Kimberly Peirce and Andy Bienen, "Boys Don't Cry" Anne Rapp, "Cookie's Fortune" John Roach and Mary Sweeney, "The Straight Story"
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER M. David Mullen, "Twin Falls Idaho" Lisa Rinzler, "Three Seasons" Anthony Dod Mantle, "julien donkey-boy" Jeffrey Seckendorf, "Judy Berlin" Harlan Bosmajian, "La Ciudad"
BEST FOREIGN FILM "All About My Mother" (Spain) "Run Lola Run" (Germany) "My Son the Fanatic" (England) "Topsy-Turvy" (England) "Rosetta" (Belgium-France)
DLJ DIRECT TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD (for documentaries) Owsley Brown, "Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles" Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan, "On the Ropes" Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson, "Well Founded Fear" Rory Kennedy, "American Hollow"
MOVADO SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD (for new directors) Dan Clark, "The Item" Julian Goldberger, "Trans" Lisanne Skyler, "Getting to Know You" Cauleen Smith, "Drylongso"
MOTOROLA PRODUCERS AWARD Pam Koffler, "I'm Losing You" and "Office Killer" Eva Kolodner, "Boys Don't Cry" and "Hide and Seek" Paul Mezey, "La Ciudad" Christine Walker, "Backroads" and "Homo Heights"