The company you keep

Things begin in the sixties in Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep.” A group of radicals rob a bank in Michigan. The ringleader, shown in dusty old FBI wanted posters, looks remarkably like The Sundance Kid.

Who are those guys? That’s the question the Feds are asking, and they have asked for more than thirty years. More accurately, where are those guys? The robbers long ago blended into America. When one surrenders to authorities after living for decades as a New York housewife (Susan Sarandon), the falling dominoes flush a lawyer (Robert Redford) out of hiding and onto the road. On their heels is also a young, aggressive newspaper reporter (Shia LeBeouf) WHO. ONLY. WANTS. THE. TRUTH.

“The Company You Keep” is something like “The Best Exotic Marigold Bank Job” for Americans. It’s the same sort of veteran gathering of aging stars and The Respected But Not Quite Famous. At some point you start wondering when Rickard Jenkins is going to show up, because you know Richard Jenkins is going to show up. He doesn’t disappoint, playing a graying radical who has retreated into a classroom.

Are the sixties dead? Not if we keep choosing to relive them. Coming to terms with the sixties sometimes seems like the baby boomers’ sole mission, as if when the meaning is finally discovered they can all finally drink the hemlock in peace. All of this exploration seems to be running in circles now. The conventional wisdom about what the whole thing meant hasn’t changed much in a long time.

As we move further away from the sixties, the remaining stories seem unable to avoid the coloring of the wisdom of age. But is this wisdom or merely exhaustion? Is there any way to fulfill the sixties through the regrets of old men and women? Will the stories improve once they are told from the perspective of those who weren’t around to experience the sixties personally? Can movies make it feel like what it was once again?

As a director Redford’s touch is admirably mature and gentle, yet weakly straightforward and dutiful. The people are mild. There is no warped mood of desperation, no feeling of things barely being kept a lid on. When Redford and Julie Christie finally meet on an idyllic lake in Michigan, you wonder if a more artful interpretation might have spent two hours on this moment: a movie of memory, choices and regret, isolated in natural beauty.

Refugee hippie stories draw their power from an explosive relationship with the past, the great chasm of feeling like a sellout, the lingering power we feel toward the myths of our youth. With a film with such an emotionally high-powered content–with questions of death, politics, justice and returning pasts–shouldn’t it deliver more than a mystery filmed with grandfatherly ease?

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