The Company You Keep (“My Thoughts On Old-Fashioned Movies”)

7 May

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Synopsis: “A former Weather Underground activist goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 41 minutes)

Character development, exciting scenes, intriguing mystery, slow but satisfying pacing…this movie was basically a star-studded old-school drama, in the best of ways.

What makes a movie feel “old-fashioned” these days? Well, first and foremost having long conversations and actual character development doesn’t hurt. If you go back and watch some of the classics from the  60’s and 70’s, you will undoubtedly find some great films that modern day audiences find “too slow” or “boring”. Why? Because we’ve been trained to see so many fast-paced action movies, that even the award movie dramas like Argo are downright fast-paced compared to older flicks. For every slow-paced Amour there are ten faster-moving vehicles like LooperEnd Of Watch and The Hunger Games, and I’m only naming movies that I thought were excellent by the way, no criticism on any of them. And it’s not as if I can say I preferred the old movies that I’m referencing from decades ago. For every fantastic slow-paced one like The French Connection and Jaws, there were movies like Bullitt and The Conversation which are classics but could put you to sleep if you’re not careful. In the 1980’s, an example of a Vietnam movie was the action-packed and fast-paced Oliver Stone film Platoon, in the 1970’s it was made sloooowly with Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. I’m not saying one must be better than the other, it’s just a reality that the pacing was different back then, and you have to usually be in the mood (and wide awake) to watch the older movies, since our brains have become so accustomed to the ADD generation that we live in. (Yes of course there are exceptions to my point, as there were plenty of fast-paced movies back then, and more than a few slower ones now. I am writing about the big-picture of how the medium has changed over the years.)

Thankfully, The Company You Keep has the pacing of an older film, but an endless barrage of cameos of that should keep most people in the ADD generation both entertained and riveted. It plays as a thriller with an unraveling mystery, and both Josh and I really enjoyed it from start to finish.

Keep in mind that this was the second movie in a double-feature at the Landmark that we were enjoying on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The first had been Trance, a fast-paced movie I reviewed recently that somewhat let us down; so we were happily surprised that this “standard” looking thriller was damn solid, and it finished our fun-day together off on a high note.

Who does it turn out wrote the movie? Lem Dobbs adapted the book by Neil Gordon, but what has Dobbs done in the past? One of my favorite underrated sci-fi movies, Dark City, came from his clever mind. Released in 1998, Dark City was a really smart little sci-fi flick that screwed with the world in a really neat way, and was overshadowed a year later by a little movie called The Matrix. I’m not trying to say that it was better than the epic awesomeness that was The Matrix, but it certainly deserved to be seen by far more people; and I recommend seeing it if you haven’t already. It even boasts Kiefer Sutherland in arguably his quirkiest role to date. Dobbs continued to make really good slower-paced dramas with the smart indie The Limey and the good heist drama The Score. In fact the only thing I dislike that I’ve seen by him is his previous film, Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, which suffered from being slow, with no interesting character development, which led to my simply being bored (in spite of its many decent reviews).

As for the cast, it got to be that there were so many recognizable actors that Josh and I were surprised when a new face was NOT familiar. In the lead role was Robert Redford, who still has the swagger and charisma of a younger man, albeit weathered and wiser. He continues to make a great leading man, and it ALMOST didn’t bother me that at 78 years old he played a man with a young daughter. Almost…that element admittedly still distracted me a bit, because every time I saw them together I felt like he was playing his grandfather, until the movie would remind me that she was his own kid. Along with Redford, the only other lead actor was Shia LaBeouf, trying to combine the Woodward & Bernstein personalities from All The President’s Men into one nerdy-Jewish but also slick-charismatic reporter. (Of course you should recall that Robert Redford himself famously played Bob Woodward in that 1970’s slow-paced, but exciting classic!)

So if Redford and LaBeouf played the only two leading roles, who played all of the numerous supporting roles? Do you have a minute?
Julie Christie played a mysterious older woman from Redford’s past. Sam Elliott was keeping her company in amusing fashion. Susan Sarandon was also from his past, and helped open the movie intriguingly. Nick Nolte and his uniquely gruff voice came on halfway through. Chris Cooper played Redford’s equally weathered brother. Terrence Howard was an FBI agent chasing Redford throughout. Anna Kendrick was the one silly role that may have been too vapid (considering she was FBI as well). Stanley Tucci was LaBeouf’s amusing boss. Richard Jenkins was also someone Redford had history with, but managed to be pretty darn good in such little time. Brendan Gleeson was really interesting as another piece to the puzzle, and even Steven Root made a memorable cameo appearance. There were another few actors I recognized, but that should give you an idea of just how many friends Redford must have in the business, or otherwise how much they loved the script.

He did another solid job as the director, and certainly has nothing to prove in that department considering his debut film Ordinary People won him an Oscar as Best Director. Probably his most popular movie was Quiz Show, the fascinating story about the scandal of Charles Van Doren as the rigged winner of the popular game show Twenty One. Most recently he made a little-seen movie about the trial of some of the people accused of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, in the solid film The Conspirator. So once again Redford proves here that he can direct good dramas with the best of them.

I got a kick out of the constant incorporation of old photographs of the actors from the 60’s and 70’s. Since these guys have all been around in the public eye since then, you were immediately aware that you were looking at actual pictures of them. I’m not sure why, but it added an element of familiar realism to the otherwise mostly-fictitious story. That plus the fact that people such as Susan Sarandon and Robert Redford are famously outspoken liberals, so having them play people who used to be Vietnam-protesting activists didn’t feel like a stretch; it added subconscious authenticity.

If you’re in the mood for a good little suspenseful drama, have a good time seeing this old-fashioned throwback. Older doesn’t have to mean better or worse, but it’s certainly refreshing when you see it, and works well.

The movie was better than Lions For Lambs, a hit-you-over-the-head liberal drama that Redford directed in 2007 as a direct response to his George W. Bush frustration. It’s not as if that movie was boring, but boy was it full of over-the-top self-righteous liberalism to bang home some obvious points. The Company You Keep was not however as great as Quiz Show, which still holds up as a fantastic movie with some superb performances by Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro.

Movie Rating: B+ (Nothing was particularly new or amazing about it, but it was a piece of well-crafted, solid film-making, from beginning to end)

Boaz Rating: A-

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17 Responses to “The Company You Keep (“My Thoughts On Old-Fashioned Movies”)”

  1. cindybruchman May 7, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    I believe you. Thanks for the review. Big fan of LaBeouf’s potential and the cast–oh my!

    Like

    • boazconstrictor May 7, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

      Oh my indeed, thanks so much for reading and all the more-so commenting, appreciate it!

      Like

  2. movierob May 7, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    I saw this a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. I LOVE watching movies and trying to find the cameos of famous actors. Needless to say, this movie kept me very busy 🙂

    Unfortunately, It’s very sad how actors we all knew from the 80’s and early 90’s are starting to play people their own age. I still think of Nick Nolte in 48 Hours or Down and Out in Beverly Hills, but now he plays geriatric characters. I was shocked to see how worn out Redford has become, but at least they all have continued to act (and act well, I must say), so I guess I can’t complain too much.

    Nice, poignant review Boaz!

    Now that you’ve seen it, you can now read my review 🙂

    Like

    • boazconstrictor May 8, 2013 at 12:19 am #

      Thanks, I will do that now!
      I agree, sometimes it’s more depressing than other times with seeing actors age. I don’t feel that way about Nolte as much since he always seemed to play cranky, old characters, even if their age didn’t justify it. Even in the two examples you give he’s still kind of an old man in the way he acts. 🙂

      Like

      • movierob May 8, 2013 at 4:00 am #

        very true. was a cranky younger bastard, now he’s a cranky old bastard

        Like

  3. brockingmovies May 8, 2013 at 12:40 am #

    That’s funny, I just wrote a review on the same movie last night. I enjoyed reading yours though. My OCD is kicking in forcing me to correct you about Redford’s age though. The movie was filmed in 2012 and at that time he was 76. So now at this point in time he is 77. The other reason that I felt the need to point this out is because I agree with you, the fact that he was way too old for his role was very distracting and a little annoying. He is an excellent actor and director, but I think he miss-cast himself in his own movie.

    Like

    • boazconstrictor May 8, 2013 at 12:43 am #

      Thanks for reading and commenting, I must have missed yours somehow and will correct that now! (I wait til I’ve seen the movie to read other reviews anyway, if I know I’m going to see it I’d rather be unbiased but I love reading it afterwards 🙂
      Yeah, I didn’t really get it, he’s supposed to have married a younger woman I suppose, but it didn’t really serve a purpose in the story that he was a super-old father, so why not just have her BE his grand-daughter? Sigh…

      Like

      • brockingmovies May 8, 2013 at 12:49 am #

        I think it all comes down to that he probably really felt like he needed to play that part and therefore didn’t care how it seemed. I fault him for it though because he was the filmmaker. Still a good movie, but it is what it is.

        Like

    • movierob May 8, 2013 at 4:02 am #

      guess he couldn’t resist the role. Must have been dear to his heart

      Like

      • brockingmovies May 12, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

        Now that just makes me think of the movie So Dear to My Heart (1948) : )

        Like

      • movierob May 12, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

        never saw that brock. recommended?

        Like

  4. boazconstrictor May 8, 2013 at 12:55 am #

    Yes, as the director he could have made a creative decision and changed who she was to him, or made her older even…oh well, wasn’t important enough to affect my overall attitude toward the movie either. 🙂

    Like

    • movierob May 8, 2013 at 4:04 am #

      wouldn’t have worked as anyone but his daughter. grand daughter woulda added new elements dealing with his own son or daughter. If it wasn’t his daughter it would have taken away his motivation

      Like

      • boazconstrictor May 8, 2013 at 9:48 am #

        Then make her older, like Liam Neeson’s daughters in “Taken”!

        Like

  5. movierob May 8, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    that wouldnt work either b/c then he wouldnt need to hand her off to his brother and then he wont get sympathy 🙂

    Like

  6. boazconstrictor May 8, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Eh, everything you’re saying would be written into the script and tweaked as necessary. When new people are cast into roles they adjust the script accordingly if the person is younger, older, female instead of male, white instead of black. I’m not claiming they’d have an unchanged script, just that it’s a bad thing to take the audience out of their element, it’s jarring, and I was clearly not the only person who thought it was a really good movie BUT was distracted by this.

    Like

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