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updated: 4/11/2013 8:45 AM

'Company' doesn't drum up the tension it needs

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  • Civil rights attorney Jim Grant (director Robert Redford) comforts his daughter (Jackie Evancho) just before he goes on the lam in "The Company You Keep."

      Civil rights attorney Jim Grant (director Robert Redford) comforts his daughter (Jackie Evancho) just before he goes on the lam in "The Company You Keep."

  • Video: "Company You Keep" trailer

 
 

Reel Life mini-review: "The Company You Keep"
It's no "Three Days of the Condor." Maybe a day and-a-half. Two days tops of Robert Redford's 1975 spy thriller in which he played a CIA agent on the run.

In the less thrilling "The Company You Keep," based on Neil Gordon's novel, Redford directs and stars as another man on the run, but now he's an aging, former member of the Weather Underground, radical students wanted by the fuzz for killing a security guard during a Michigan bank robbery in the '70s.

Living as a Vermont housewife, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), one of the radicals, clearly orchestrates her own arrest. Why turn herself in now?

Albany newspaper reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) gets a chance to ask her that, plus other pressing questions, when an FBI boss (Terrence Howard) allows him to interview her in a holding cell.

(This scene is the movie's showpiece, a tightly scripted interchange in which Solarz defends the purity and admitted naiveté of the anti-war movement, as well as her regrets for youthful errors of judgment. This while Adriano Goldman's camera slowly turns Solarz and Shepard's sharp profiles into a literal faceoff.)

It doesn't take long for Shepard to track down Jim Grant (Redford), the civil rights lawyer who refused to represent her, and realize he's actually Nick Sloan, one of the bank robbers who disappeared 30 years ago.

His cover blown, Grant drops his 11-year-old daughter off with his brother (Chris Cooper), then departs for a cross-country journey to contact his former radical pals (played by Richard Jenkins and Nick Nolte), especially his distant ex-lover Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie).

Redford directs "Company" with leisurely assurance, so leisurely that the parts intended to be nail-biting come off as finger-strumming.

Granted, "Company" need not employ teary-eyed nostalgia for the flower power years as "The Big Fix" did, but the movie's reconciliation of the passionate past with the pensive present works like mushy oatmeal for the soul.

"The Company You Keep" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago, Evanston CineArts 6 and the Northbrook Court 14. Rated R for language. 125 minutes. ★ ★ ˝

Racial pretensions?
Dear Dann: It is with eager anticipation that I await your review of "42." You once panned a movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro because you said it suggested that a black man was unable to make it without help from a white man. I am especially eager since Harrison Ford is playing Branch Rickey. Should the Rickey role be eliminated? -- Jim Recchia, Geneva.

Dear Jim: You ask a very thoughtful question about how close "42" comes to being one of many "white savior" movies that portray minorities as helpless pawns in need of white characters to save/feed/heal/protect them.

There's a big difference between the fact-based "42" and the fact-based "Men of Honor," starring Gooding as Carl Brashear, the U.S. Navy's first black diver, and De Niro as Billy Sunday, the white master chief who not only saves Brashear's life, but later saves his Navy career in the courtroom.

Branch Rickey was a real person who put into action his belief in Methodist John Wesley's visions of social justice. Helping talented minority athletes achieve equality on the baseball diamond was something of a calling for Rickey.

His relationship with Jackie Robinson in the movie is clearly a partnership in which both men have plenty to lose if they don't work together and achieve success at integrating the game.

Billy Sunday? Cool name. But he never existed.

The screenwriter created him so that there would be a superior white character to whom the black diver would owe both his life and the rest of his military career.

That entire plot was just about as honest and realistic as Brashear, dressed in full deep-sea diving gear, outrunning a Russian nuclear submarine on the ocean floor.

I hope that addresses your question, Jim. -- Dann

Great openings return!
Dann & Raymond's Movie Club presentation of "The Greatest Opening Sequences in Hollywood History" has been rescheduled at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 18, at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, 500 N. Dunton Ave., Arlington Heights. Free admission! We bumped last week's program out of respect for Roger Ebert's tribute at the Chicago Theatre, scheduled for the same night. Go to ahml.info.

• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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