The Company You Keep

Rating: There are over 50,000 names of Americans on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, all who died young. Their efforts resulted in Vietnam now being a vacation spot for Americans. Go see this film and maybe you will understand the agony of those who refused to do nothing.

The Company You KeepWhat would college students do today if a draft existed that would suck them into Iraq, Syria and Pakistan? What if young protesters were accused falsely by our government of being terrorists? Haven’t you been living with a bit of artistic anxiety knowing you have yet to see Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep?

Well, good people, it’s time to stop and smell the cinematic roses, as this is a fine film on multiple levels. To begin with, while you may have known that this intriguing drama stars both Redford and Shia LeBeouf, did you know that Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Anna Kendrick, Brendon Gleeson and Sam Elliott are also in this film? Isn’t that enough to pry you out of your malaise and get into the theater to see what this film is all about?

In summary, it centers on suspected members of the Weather Underground from the 1970’s being arrested in New York 30 years after their alleged involvement in a bank robbery that resulted in a guard being killed. Susan Sarandon, the mother of two, was arrested in New York by the FBI while trying to turn herself in, and Robert Redford is forced on the run as her suspected accomplice. Redford, playing the widowed father of a 12-year old daughter, is at his laconic best as a lawyer trying to protect his past while not revealing the involvement of old friends.

Despite the fact that these old Vietnam War protesters have kept a tight bond despite hiding from public view for three decades, it comes unraveled with the work of a young newspaperman played by Shia LaBeouf. Fighting to keep his job while working under a unfeeling boss played by Mr. Tucci, he is the first one to track the intentions of Redford as he flees to the Midwest. Is Redford trying to protect himself or simply others?

In the process, Redford’s Nick Sloan reunites with his old lover, Mimi, played by the still beautiful Julie Christie. How can you possibly save yourself if it involves sending someone forever etched on your soul to prison? Watching Christie and Redford confront each other is as mesmerizing as it is moving, and you end up reliving your reflections of both as actors as they relive their relationship as young protesters who were convinced they were fighting on the right side of justice.

The value of The Company You Keep extends beyond its entertainment as a film. Even if you are too young to have experienced the turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War debacle of the 1960-1970’s, you need to remember.

In particular this film reminded me of David Marannis’ brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “They Marched Into Sunlight”. It focuses on October, 1967, when our country was simultaneously engaged in a ferocious two-day battle in Vietnam while the first “war against the war” was taking place here at home on the campus of the University of Wisconsin.

While over a hundred American soldiers died in an ambush, the existence of which denied by General Westmoreland, students protesting the presence of Dow Chemical on campus were accosted and beaten by the Wisconsin police. Dismay and doubt permeated our forces in Vietnam while anger filled the college campuses of our country. I remember that clearly, as I graduated from what is now Marian University here in Indianapolis two years later in 1969.

Sure, Redford’s young friends did the unthinkable by robbing a bank when their protest deepened. While certainly inexcusable, over 50,000 young American boys were to die in Vietnam while our government and most corporation leaders ignored the consequences. Though I, like many, continued peaceful protests, which included burning draft cards, how could you really condemn protests turning to violence after college kids were gunned down at Kent State in 1968?

Finally, if you want to see a brilliant film that plays upon the theme captured by Mr. Redford, then go see Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty (1988). The late River Phoenix was unforgettable as a young kid constantly running for years with his parents and sister as a result of the bombing of a “Dow-like” building where a janitor was tragically killed. With the help of old friends like that experienced by Redford, Sarandon and Christie, Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti were hunted parents who could never spend more than several months at any location. Like Redford and Sarandon, they had a child who had to be released into the real world, a move that would forever separate them from one another.

While The Company You Keep embraces cerebral themes as opposed to Running on Empty’s emotional foundation, they both help you understand the consequences of opposing your government’s perfidy in sending massive numbers of young Americans to an undeserved grave. Mistakes were made by parents in both movies when they were young and inspired, but the deaths they inadvertently caused did not compare to those lying in Vietnam’s ashes.

Who was really at fault and who was to blame? You tell me.