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'The Company You Keep' never quite figures out what it wants to be

'Company,' directed by and starring Robert Redford, is equally preachy and melodramatic.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / April 5, 2013

Robert Redford maintains mystery as Jim Grant, a public interest lawyer, in 'The Company You Keep.'

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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“The Company You Keep,” directed by and starring Robert Redford, is an odd movie for our times: both antiquated and seemingly in-the-moment. It’s about a group of radical antiwar protesters from the 1970s, many of them former members of the Weather Underground, and what life has done to them. It is also about what happens to those among them who emerge at long last from hiding (in some cases in plain sight).

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The film’s focus is on a group responsible in the ’70s for a Michigan bank robbery in which a guard was killed. Its members were identified but, with one exception, never apprehended. Now one of its ringleaders, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), who had been posing for decades as a Vermont housewife, is arrested by the FBI just as she has decided to turn herself in.

Redford plays a public interest lawyer in Albany, N.Y., named Jim Grant, although we soon discover he is really Nick Sloan, one of the Michigan bank robbers. Or is he? Sharon’s arrest, and the ruthless inquiries of a local reporter, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), send Nick into hiding, but instead of fleeing the country he maneuvers behind the scenes to clear his name. It’s “The Fugitive” meets “Running on Empty” meets “Absence of Malice.”

As if he didn’t have enough baggage, Nick, a recent widower, also has an 11-year-old daughter (Jackie Evancho), whom he deposits with his physician brother (Chris Cooper) in Manhattan as the FBI bears down. Nick wants to clear his name as much for her benefit as his own: He wants her to know he’s no murderer. His best hope lies in locating an ex-flame, Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie, too long absent from the screen), who apparently survives as a marijuana smuggler off the California coast and is the one person who can clear his name – although to do so she must be persuaded to give herself up.

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