The Company You Keep: Wheezy Rider

It's time, apparently, for the aging ghosts of '60s radicalism to once again take stock of their sins and compromises. In The Big Chill and Running on Empty, during the Reagan '80s, the then–middle-aged revolutionaries' to-do list involved holding down careers and worrying about their kids; now the noble fist-wavers are looking at Social Security and prescriptions of Levator. Once it gets its walkers moving, Robert Redford's The Company You Keep nearly plays like a green-granola-lefty counterpart to The Expendables, a Hollywood Elderhostel reunion crowded with septuagenarian icons looking back on the righteousness and failures of the Nixon–'Nam era with rheumy retirees' eyeballs.

The story, from Neil Gordon's novel about the contemporary fate of a few surviving Weather Underground fugitives, all but blows a trumpet for how rad rad used to be. First Sarandon's Vermont housewife, her kids all grown up, throws in the secret-identity towel and surrenders herself to the FBI; from there, the dominoes tumble, leading cub reporter Shia LaBeouf to follow his nose and soon uncover the similarly fake ID of Redford's upstate lawyer, sending this suede-faced ex-Weatherman running. (Which translates to, predictably, the 77-year-old Redford slipping seamlessly through crowds disguised only in a baseball cap and sunglasses.)

The FBI closes in, LaBeouf's annoying snoop pesters every single other character motivated only by his journalistic creed (in a contemporary world where we're reminded every few minutes about how journalism is dead), and withering guest-stars (Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Richard Jenkins, a phlegm-plagued Nick Nolte) emerge to crinkle and wheeze about the good old days of bank robberies and protests. Redford's noble Methuselah isn't just self-preserving—he's got an unseasonably preadolescent daughter to worry about, and a case for his own redemption to make.


The Company You Keep
Directed by Robert Redford
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens April 5

In his fastidiously white-bread way, Redford takes on a wildly ambivalent topic—homegrown terrorism or anti-imperialist freedom fighting?—but treats it with the same procedural tepidity that he brought to the Lincoln assassination fallout in The Conspirator two years ago. (It's that self-righteous Redford squint; you can just see him directing with it.) Of course the Weather participants are all fictionalized, and no known members are still thought to be hiding out under aliases and clipping Early Bird coupons, leaving the film in something of an existential pickle. Why Weather, in 2013? Could it be Obama's old Bill Ayers connection? The question might seem more pungent if the movie weren't a cliché farm, complete with Terence Howard's FBI head yelling "C'mon, people!" during the techno-surveillance chase, and Stanley Tucci, as LaBeouf's irascible editor, practically snapping his suspenders in fury over his uncontrollable hotshot employee.

The deep-dish cast does its job cameo by cameo, with memorable glimpses of humanity offered by Sarandon's quiet fierceness (softly maintaining that, yes, she'd engage in violent protest again, like, now) and Brendan Gleeson's retired police captain, in each of his scenes thinking one step ahead of LaBeouf. Redford, on the other hand, is still trying to come off as someone a quarter-century younger than he is (his '60s FBI photos are publicity shots from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and with his oddly melting visage he often looks woefully like a David Levine-drawn caricature of himself. Maybe it's time to start that memoir, Bob.

Given the finger-wagging suggestion of its title, it's actually no surprise to find that The Company You Keep turns out to be politically chicken-hearted—the progressive cant we hear sounds idiotic, and political principles are seen as pathetic challenges to the demands of family and law and order. Frantz Fanon gets a conspicuous plug, but you'd never know that in real life the Weathermen killed no one. Through the whole film you're on tenterhooks waiting for Redford to wrestle with the ethical tar pit at the center of the armed-protest idea. I kept hoping LaBeouf would get violently radicalized, or that a handcuffed Sarandon would grab a gun and go on a tear. But Redford cops out, finally, and succeeds only in defanging the idea of resistance altogether. Far from engaged, the film practically surrenders in an arthritic faint.

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While attempting to shame the “small-minded” among us into forgiving the terrorist and murderer Kathy Boudin and forgetting that she’s on the faculty, the student newspaper of Columbia University, the Columbia Daily Spectator, puts into writing a concept that many outside academia have observed for years: “What is the aim of college, after all, if not to ask students to rethink the categories of good and evil even change their minds?” Inside academic circles, this type of thinking is lauded as enlightenment. Outside academic circles, this concept is known as moral relativism, and it is widely regarded as undermining the culture of this country.

Ms. Boudin may have paid her legal debt to society, but as the Spectator acknowledges, “nothing can repair the lifelong pain that the families of the Brinks robbery victims still experience. The trauma that these people endured must surely make Boudin’s position at Columbia seem cruel and ironic. She lives, teaches, and receives recognition; their loved ones never had the chance.” At the end of her incarceration, Ms. Boudin opted against a quiet life of remorse that she claims to feel, she chooses to work at a high profile university, to publish and to make speeches.

The pattern of convicted domestic terrorists profiting from the crimes of their youth with speaking fees, book royalties, and tenured positions at distinguished universities is unsettling. Ms. Boudin drawing a salary to teach the brightest and best young minds in this country is tantamount to a serial rapist taking a salaried position as a grief counselor.

If Boudin has truly made a transformation from a reckless radical to becoming socially responsible, there would be no need for her to shine a spotlight on herself by publishing, speaking, and teaching at an Ivy League school. Her post-conviction life screams “Hey look at me being socially responsible” very loudly. I don’t blame anyone bothered by her screaming “Hey look at me being socially responsible” from her ivy-covered ivory tower.


I have never read such bigotry against older people as exhibited by Mr. Atkinson. He must be very young and think that he will be exempt from growing old. I was unable to actually read what he thought of the film because I was so offended by his ageism.


The movie doesn't adequately detail Boudin’s role in the 1981 Brinks robbery. Boudin was not simply an accomplice who drove the getaway vehicle, she helped lead the police into an ambush that resulted in the deaths of three officers…

 From official news accounts of the murders:

“since the truck matched the description of the getaway vehicle they were looking for, the officers pulled it over and approached with guns drawn…The police officers who caught them testified that Boudin, feigning innocence, pleaded with them to put down their guns and convinced them to drop their guard; Boudin said she remained silent, that the officers relaxed spontaneously. After the police did lower their weapons, six of the men in the back of the truck who were armed with automatic weapons and wore body armor surprised the four police officers by emerging and opening fire. Officer Brown was hit repeatedly by rifle rounds and collapsed on the ground. One robber then walked up to his prone body and fired several more shots into him with a 9mm handgun, ensuring his death.”

This woman is as culpable in those men’s murders as anyone who pulled the trigger. She does not deserve to be a member of free society.

Why Redford would celebrate such a disgusting piece of humanity makes you wonder why he isn't championing for Charles Manson's release.


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