Politics

Why ‘The Company You Keep’ matters

Ten years ago, Robert Redford crafted a political drama that bears a lot of relevance to the chaos of our world today, writes Dan Jensen.

THERE’S A SCENE towards the end of the 2012 film The Company You Keep that is a sad reminder of how mixed up some people are with their idea of freedom.

In the scene, former Weather Underground member Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie) tells fellow former radical Nick Sloan (Robert Redford) that she is going to continue her decades-long run from authorities so she can retain her “freedom”. Weather Underground was an actual radical militant movement that started in the late ’60s and is the basis for the story in the film.

The character of Lurie has been on the run after a botched robbery that resulted in the death of a guard in 1980. While in hiding, Lurie resorts to drug trafficking in order to make a living and under the impression that she is “free”. But her perception of freedom is distorted, to say the least.

It reminds us that we currently live in a world where people are refusing life-saving vaccinations in the midst of a pandemic, all the while shaking their fists at the government for trying to take away their freedom. Yet these are the same people who can’t visit cinemas, pubs attend weddings or even earn a living in many cases.

The Company You Keep is a political drama directed by Robert Redford, where his character has been on the run after being accused as an accomplice to the aforementioned robbery. Meanwhile, Shia LaBeouf plays Ben Shepard, a reporter who finds himself caught up in Sloan’s story and winds up facing some moral choices as he inadvertently exposes Sloan to the FBI and is left with other sensitive information that could further his career — at a price.

The film itself is interesting enough but lacks the level of intrigue and tension to really make it gripping. It features a stellar cast including Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins and Terrence Howard, with Redford’s direction reminding us why he’s considered one of the best in the business.

The story features a few twists and turns to keep things moving and the two-hour run time doesn’t feature too many dull moments. But while it’s touted as a political thriller, it lacks enough actual thrills to really earn a place in that category. However, it’s the themes present that make it worthwhile viewing, highlighting that sometimes we need to look at the bigger picture.

The film also raises interesting points as to the media and its involvement in political matters where lives can be destroyed. How much of a story needs to be published to get the point across before stepping over the line and possibly adversely affecting the lives of others? In recent times where our own government has been plagued by scandals involving sexual abuse and corruption, how far is too far when it comes to publishing private information regarding victims of sexual abuse, for example?

As Shepard pursues Sloan and learns more about his personal life, he begins to suspect that Sloan’s involvement in the robbery wasn’t all it appears to be and is left with a major decision by the end as to what’s more important — Sloan being free to be with his daughter or Shepard’s own career motivations.

But the central theme is how far do we place our personal beliefs against things that truly matter such as the value of life and actual freedom. The characters in the film believed in their cause enough to take a life and remain underground for as long as possible to preserve their freedom. But the film explores how the things that once took precedence and consumed us, even in the case of fundamentalists’ views, can fade into the background. The question is raised as to how far we should go to protect our beliefs.

The world is in a state of chaos like we’ve never seen in our lifetime and unity is one of the key things that will help us get out of it. In 30 years, will it have been worth breaking friendships over issues that feel important right now, but lose their urgency over time? But The Company You Keep serves as a reminder that discussion and understanding are vital in reaching amicable solutions.

It’s hard to imagine that Robert Redford would know in 2012 that the film he was making would have such deep relevance ten years later. But while it’s not one of his best, it’s worth looking at as a reflection of our world right now and how we can make it better, not just for us but for future generations.

★★★☆☆

The Company You Keep is available to rent on Amazon Prime.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @danjensenmovies or check out his YouTube channel, Movie Talk with Dan Jensen.

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