In The Company You Keep, Robert Redford stars in as well as directs a story of an ex-Weather Underground radical who has been living quietly as a public-interest lawyer in upstate New York for more than 30 years. His true identity is discovered by an annoying reporter (Shia LaBeouf) after the apprehension of one of his co-conspirators (Susan Sarandon), who was one of four terrorists who robbed a bank and murdered several security guards in the process.
Redford, that noted “liberal activist,” shows where his sympathies truly are. This is a movie that argues:
1. The Weathermen were fighting for peace.
The Company You Keep begins with a montage of real news clips (and a fake one) edited together to tell the story that the Weather Underground grew out of the antiwar group Students for a Democratic Society and that its activities were meant to end the Vietnam War by “bringing the war home.” Nonsense. The Weathermen loved war and wanted more of it. They were a murderous group of Black Power and Marxist revolutionaries bent on the violent overthrow of the United States. After the 1970 accidental explosion that killed several terrorists who blew themselves up with their own bombs in a downtown New York City townhouse, the true intent of the bombs was revealed: They were meant to be used to blow up a library on the campus of Columbia University. Not exactly a military target.
2. Terrorism is a noble, romantic calling.
Throughout the film, but particularly in a sentimental scene in which the Redford character meets an old comrade (Richard Jenkins) who is now a professor at the University of Michigan, the Weathermen are portrayed as legendary figures who may have gone slightly too far but were driven by idealism. Redford even tells the young reporter played by LaBeouf that he’s such a smart guy that “30 years ago, you would have joined the Movement.” As if terrorism ever drew the best and brightest.
3. The press is hostile to left-wing radicals.
The Shia LaBeouf figure, a gung-ho young reporter for the Albany paper, is meant to stand in for all the nasty journalists who have tormented groups like the Weathermen and associated ’60s radicals like Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, and Kathy Boudin over the years. Redford’s character Jim Grant upbraids the reporter, sarcastically, as being “fair and balanced.” Except these terrorists have gotten nothing but love from the media, academia, and fashionable leftists such as Barack and Michelle Obama, who have been friends with Ayers and his wife Dohrn for many years and have gotten a free pass on the matter from the entire mainstream media. Let us not ever forget the notoriously sympathetic article about Ayers (who said “I don’t regret setting bombs” and “I feel we didn’t do enough”) that ran in the New York Times the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
4. There is a legitimate debate over whether what the Weathermen did was right.
The film maintains a “scrupulously ethical balance in contemplating domestic terrorism,” noted the New York Times, which got that much right. Yes, this is one of those moral-equivalence movies that says terrorist violence is justified in the U.S. because the U.S. is a horrible country. The character played by Susan Sarandon is obviously based on Kathy Boudin, who was present at the Weathermen’s townhouse explosion in 1970 and, 11 years later, participated in the Brink’s bank robbery in Nanuet, New York, during which her gang murdered a security guard and two policemen. (The Vietnam War, of course, had been over for years, which gives the lie to the film’s claim that the Southeast Asia conflict was anything but a pretext for the terrorist network.)
In the film’s centerpiece segment, Sarandon’s character bewitches LaBeouf by explaining her actions (which she doesn’t regret) as a legitimate response to a U.S. government that “murdered millions of people.” She insists: “We made mistakes but we were right,” and the film portrays her much more sympathetically than the journalist investigating the story. She cites the My Lai massacre, local police’s opposition to the Selma civil rights march, Kent State, and Jackson State as examples. But the U.S. government, of course, did not commit or condone murder in any of these incidents, and the Weathermen’s decade-long violent spree was nothing but sheer savagery. Sarandon’s answer, and the movie’s? Look no farther than this classic line: “Yeah, well, dissent could be dicey.”
Additional coverage at PJ Media of Robert Redford’s film: