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Film Review: The Company You Keep

Beyond the disgust of the topic, it’s an entertainment dud. (Also read PJ Media’s extensive coverage of the film here, here and here.)

Rick Richman


April 5, 2013 - 12:00 am

The Company You Keep, Robert Redford’s valentine to aging former members of the Weather Underground, opens this week in New York and Los Angeles. I’ve seen it so you don’t have to. Ed Driscoll, Michelle Malkin, Scott Johnson, and Jonathan Tobin have done an excellent job criticizing the politics of the film; this post is intended to provide a consumer alert about its cinematic merits.

The 76-year-old Redford plays a small-town lawyer with an eleven-year-old daughter and an undisclosed past: he was part of the radical group that robbed a bank in the 1970s and killed a guard. He goes on the run after his identity is disclosed by a reporter.

The notable actors, like the characters they portray, have seen better days. They deliver paeans about the way they were, while Redford runs about trying to clear his name (since he may not have been guilty of this particular crime, and further, these days he loves his daughter). In the Sony Pictures Classics press kit, Redford says:

For me [the film] was a bit like Les Misérables, with the character Jean Valjean sentenced to nineteen years for a loaf of bread.

The movie is not a bit like Les Misérables. It might be a bit like Les Misérables if Jean Valjean had been wanted for murder rather than bread-theft. Or had Valjean looked like Robert Redford on a good day, rather than Hugh Jackman after serving on a slave ship and spending two decades in jail; and if Valjean had ultimately been protected by a “conscience-stricken” reporter who decided to toss his further story after Redford lectures him about the importance of keeping secrets:

Secrets are dangerous things, Ben. We all think we want to know them. But if you’ve ever kept one yourself then you understand to do so is not just knowing something about someone else, it’s discovering something about yourself.

Such a message Inspector Javert would probably have found a bit unconvincing had it come from Jean Valjean. Similarly, a journalist would probably find it a bit presumptuous coming from someone who is a fugitive rather than just a source. The rest of us would consider it extraordinarily trite, even if delivered by Redford as if it were literature.

In an unintentionally funny scene, Redford shows up at a Midwestern university to search for a former Weather comrade who is now a respected history professor: the professor may know where Redford can find Julie Christie’s character. Redford sits in the back of the class in his disguise (consisting of a baseball cap pulled low over his forehead, so he won’t stand out as an old man in a college class who looks like Robert Redford).

He watches as the professor regales the class with the insights of … Karl Marx.

The professor is shocked to see Redford — he might blow the professor’s own disguise! The scene is played without any sense of awareness that colleges are the safe houses for most old leftists, hiding in plain sight while mis-educating their debt-burdened students (who pay their salaries) about the evils of capitalism. Heck, you can even have killed two police officers and a Brink’s guard during a robbery and get a job as a professor teaching “restorative justice” at Columbia.

Redford and Christie make an unconvincing duo, an elderly Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid of the Left, holed up in a mountain cabin while pursued by the police — except in this version they end the movie with a whimper rather than a bang. Christie — after she refuses to help Redford and flees the scene — is shown alone in a boat on a vast empty lake (she’s totally “at sea,” get it?). After an interminable focus on the boat, it starts to turn around: she’s going to return to save Redford. Who could have seen that coming?

Meanwhile, Redford gets caught when he inexplicably runs from one part of the woods to another across a thousand yards of open space at the precise moment a police helicopter flies overhead. Redford’s running form is reminiscent of George Clooney in The Descendants — also funny, but this time unintentional.

The investigating reporter discovers a secret beyond Redford’s identity, and the characters suggest that the highest form of journalism hides what it finds for the right people. When Redford played Bob Woodward there was a different message: fitting, as these days Woodward is persona non grata on the Left.

Times change, presidents change, and apparently media integrity must adjust accordingly.

Rick Richman’s articles have appeared in American Thinker, Commentary, The Jewish Journal, The Jewish Press, The New York Sun, and PJ Media. His blog is Jewish Current Issues and he is one of the group bloggers at Contentions.

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All Comments   (12)
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"When Redford played Bob Woodward there was a different message"

But Richard Nixon was always the "wrong sort of people" to the Left. And in any case, it was the era of single-issue politics, where for the LEftists VietNam trumped everything.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wouldn't it be nice to see a movie told from the viewpoint of the police officers and their bereaved families?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As Dickens could have told you(*), portraying terrorists as boring is more harmful to their cause than portraying them as evil.

(*) Introduction to Oliver Twist.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Stuck for a young performer to play the role of his daughter, Mr. Redford caught a television broadcast of a concert performance by 11-year-old mezzo-soprano Jackie Evancho, and thought from what he saw that he could direct her in a film.

Maybe you remember her singing from "America's Got Talent" a few years back, when she was awarded the second-place vote, or maybe the "Dream With Me" PBS concert she recorded live at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida.

That concert has turned out to be about the single most successful fundraising item Public Television has ever broadcast. (Their proclamation...)

She turned out to be a professional-level actress, along with her musical genius. Or maybe it's just another aspect of the same skillset.


As much as I would like to hijack this forum to praise Ms. Evancho, my reason for posting in response to this essay on Mr. Redford's movie is rather to address Mr. Redford's use of this child to further his politics. The extreme left radicalism and homicidal violence Mr. Redford uses as the basis of his character's "heroism" should disgust us. But now the same moral pigmies that thought it perfectly acceptable to blow up banks, bomb universities and police stations, murder police officers, judges, and security guards, ARE RUNNING THE COUNTRY.

They have become the monsters they claimed they were opposing. They didn't grasp the underlying moral distinctions obscured by the inevitable ambiguities THEN. In their present jubilant self-glorification, they mistake success for the imprimatur of a godless universe, they trample any doubts or criticism under the jackboots they wear now, which once they scorned. They mistake the forbearance and patience of patriots, for spineless acquiescence.

Now, decades after the murders, robberies, and bombings committed in the guise of political protest, Mr. Redford senses that he can safely declare that he supported the murder of police, security guards, and suchlike terrorist acts all along. "It was a good cause." BS. It was always a power grab, tarted up in their minds to be something that wasn't depraved.

Hmmmm. Come to think of it... wasn't that sort of the underlying message of "Botch Casually and the Somedunce Kid?" [h/t to Mad Magazine for their parody] Evidently, it's okay to rob banks and kill people if you're pretty and you can parrot some snappy patter.

The Left really do see themselves as the heros of the age, freed from any of the bothersome strictures of right and wrong that might apply to anyone else. They're as bad as any Jimmy Jones monomaniac, without any redeeming God to forgive anyone for their acts or failings.

Bill Ayers is smiling somewhere.

Every admission ticket purchased by viewers of this film confirms for him that it will be a little bit easier gathering up the few who still believe in the U.S. Constitution and its guarantees, and herding them into the concentration camps he has described in his interviews.

Meanwhile, the film utterly betrays and perverts the religious and moral values repeatedly expressed by Ms. Evancho and her parents.

It's a shame.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Redford is a hypocritical and gut-turning disgrace. Here's how Redford looks out for the little guy:

From his Sundance Resort webpage:

Indulge in the easy elegance of Sundance’s Luxury Mountain Home Collection. Experience the comfort of our well-appointed homes, each with their own unique style and aesthetic. Homes range from two bedrooms to seven bedrooms offering the perfect accommodations for any size family or group gathering.

Enjoy your own private mountain sanctuary amidst the tranquil beauty that is Sundance Resort. A variety of distinctive amenities allows each guest to choose the mountain home experience tailor made to their family or group needs. Amenities include full kitchens, fireplaces, hot tubs, game rooms and decks with views of the surrounding canyon. Homes are situated on private property that is exclusive only to our guest’s usage.

While in one of our mountain homes, additional indulgences may be arranged such as:
*Private Butler
*Private Chef
*Specialized Grocery Service
*Nightly turn down service
*24 Hour Bell service

The Sundance Luxury Mountain Home collection is the ideal setting for your next family get away, small Executive Retreat or intimate wedding and special occasion of any kind.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is just a lefty who loves himself and his causes, hoping we will do the same. Ain't going to happen. I have far better things to do, like ironing and weeding the garden - and these are far more entertaining!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This reminds me of an earlier film that Redford did years ago with Ben Kingsley, Sidney Poitier, Dan Ackroyd and the late River Phoenix - "Sneakers". In that movie, Redford's and Kingsley's characters were idealistic young computer hackers who hacked into the bank accounts of corporations and conservative groups, "redistributing" it to various left-wing advocacy groups. Kingsley's character is nabbed by the Feds but Redford's character manages to elude arrest. The movie's plot is about how Kingsley's character, now the head of a large software development firm, attempts to blackmail the earnest, saintly Redford character into stealing a crucial universal decryption program. I enjoyed Kingsley's performance (as well as those of Ackroyd, Phoenix, Mary McDonnell, and David Straitharn) more than Redford's which I though to be rather pedestrian.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This was an OK review, but I'm still not sure I got a sense of what, if anything, Redford is trying to say about 60s radicals. How do these characters feel about the things they did as young men and women? Any regrets? Any sense of "Well, we did some crazy stuff in our wilder days but now we're respectable citizens?" Or are they still defending what they did, thinking of themselves as victims whose only crime was idealism?

As for Redford's politics - it's so nice that he "admired" the Weathermen and their cause, even though he didn't have the moral courage to actually do or say anything radical. Might mess up his promising acting career. Say what you will about Jane Fonda - at least she had some skin in the game.

the presence of Susan Sarandon in this movie makes me wonder if Redford is part of some lefty Hollywood social circle, possibly along with Sean Penn, Danny Glover, Matt Damon, and other limousine liberals. Also wonder if he's had any personal relationships with people like Ayers, Dohrn, Chomsky, Zinn, etc.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A bit of both, but since most of them were never really "punished" for their crimes they committed this is also their twisted idea of atonement. As in "yes we did bad things but for good reasons, so we should be forgiven."

It's also a bit of nostalgia as they long for the days when they could be the outsider instead of now when they are the palace guards and in a way, trying to get the young to do the same thing (maybe minus the violence which they seem to regret a bit, but not much).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This just cries out for a cartoon parody version, with Grandpa Simpson in the Robert Redford role.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm guessing that he late Roger Ebert would have lo-o-o-oved this film.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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