I wrote “As a Legacy movie,”The Company you keep” is pretty much Robert Redford’s masterpiece. A worthy follow on to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid , and All the president’s men,” and I stared at it for two hours before falling asleep.
I didn’t fall asleep .
Words came to me all night and I was afraid the glorious insightful meaningful words would stop.Richly textured deeply significant meanings opened up one argument at a time and I was in a fever .It simply wouldn’t stop. if I have down here one third of all that I dreamed about , I will feel worthy of having sat in a theater and experienced depth of true cinematic genius.
THIS is why we make films.
As the film progresses, our throat is lumpy, not with manipulative emotionality, but with a recurring reaffirming. “This” our mind tells …. “This! This This!” . The experience that unfolds is more philosophical inquiry than drama. (there IS plenty of drama, but for those who dare go there, there are rich rewards in its philosophy).
It has been a while since I saw a movie that was made to ASK questions and lay out existential justifications that change way look at our same old world, not because we learnt something new – just that one thought all this was extinct, this idealism, and had long since,started acting out on our dogmatic slumber.
THIS is not just any or ordinary movie.
Are a near legendary group of leftist radicals that, in sixties went underground after a bank robbery they were carrying out went horribly wrong and they killed a security guard at bank. They have been on FBI’s most wanted list ever since, a fact that overlooks their contribution to leftist idealism as law behaves like an amoral and clinical ass with a long memory. Recently, as one of them was “discovered ” living a suburban mom lifestyle in upstate new york, interest in this underground organization was renewed in US , and fictionalized account here is based on a 2004 Neil Gordon novel structured like a 1970’s warner bros thriller about a man on run. Redford plays Jim Grant, a Jason bournesque character without superpowers (He could be introspectionman , I guess) who has to learn to invent identities as he moves from place to place in small town america (which is a well wrought character in film) . When Sharon Solarz (Susan sarandon) is arrested by FBI, Grant is forced to go on lam, leaving his 8 year old daughter with his brother, and tracks down other people from the radical group who are now middle aged boomers in respectable occupations: one a college professor hiding his radicalism in plain sight, another a lumberjack in rural Wisconsin …and some rich in big sur from applying their sociopathy to good use in stock market…or running marijuana.
The film resolves around core beliefs of radicalism passing glowingly worshipful judgement of the idealism underlying it and pronouncing hagiography on all its protagonists, thus leaving weather underground as Redford found it.
In a world where films only seem to get made to “expose” feet of clay ( Dreamers, Barbarian invasions) , the vote of confidence is timely and well appreciated. leftism in film harkens back to American themes of radical revolution and activism, something we never see in film. American radicalism has a pragmatic edge that has changed world often. It also remembers some old enmities American saboteurs and anarchists were the raison d itre for the FBI in 1920’s and 30’s.
” The Company you Keep” is a socratic inquiry into ethics. The question posited is: In a world where state has lost it, what is ethical behavior for Man. Without getting overly talky, the film sets out bite sized ethical dilemmas to each disciple .
What results is much more than an expiation of innocence. we see damning indictment of amoral state.
The state by being amoral has allowed itself to be a weapon , given that it has deadly force, for people that would act willfully in evil ways (genocide, repression, selective prosecutions of innocent to serve system which generates much evil). Faced with this, an ethical individual must act to protect his and himself . The choices he makes creates space in his ecosystem. While people make mistakes and shit happens, to everyone, one’s personal history is created very verifyably , by and their actions AND their words take responsibility for why they have emerged way they are.
If we live like this, its enough and meaningful. If we die on our feet doing this, still have acted with virtue. The highest Socratic ideal.
Thus unfolds the magnum opus that adumbrates the halo( Sundance) of Redford’s greatest films – Milagro bean field wars, All President’s men, Conspirator….Butch Cassidy and Sundance kid. Redford is able to successfully evoke mythology of first and idealism of President’s Men. He brings benefit of his 78 years to keep the film real and the eye that sees sees an america that could have been, can be and is, all too fleeting.
The camera (Adriano Goldman: Sin nombre) is a master class in how to use colors and images in a story. Deeply introspective narrative. Bressonian in its depth . Almost religious in its conviction. (If religion is about human ethics, then film is deeply religious.)
The acting is nuanced and deep. Spectacular performances from Redford, Shia La boef, Susan Sarandon, Nick nolte, Chris cooper, Terrence Howard, Staley Tucci, Brit Marling (she’s spectacular) , Sam howard…..Everyone seems to understand that they are depicting living Gods.
If there is one film that answers John Wayne , Ronald Reagan brand of cowboy capitalism through a dose of realism, some of which is magic (specially those parts featuring children, whom we should teach well), it is this one. We come out believing that great things are possible, and that makes this an american film of John Ford Frank Bozarge variety.
I didn’t go into this film expecting to worship it so.There are docu-dramas about all manners of people.Where “The company you keep ” succeeds is in its John updike quality of describing a historic sweep of events filtered in lens of idealism of the 60’s radicals. While we all like to admire people of sixties for their blind courage and sheer guts (and sex and drugs and rock and roll) most of us don’t know , in any detail, radical philosophy that fueled intelligent successful kids to dedicate lives full of meaning to the Idea. The film constructs narrative for Barack Obama leftist.
Barack Obama and his leftists
The film also damns in a tongue in cheek way,the LEADER of the Barack Obama leftists. It informs his minions: their leader is now the enemy (if we HAVE done a deal with devil, we have to ACT, often, like devil). The play of words also indicates that “The company you keep ” Obama ‘s is FBI/CIA(there is a clinical efficient and ruthless black man heading manhunt for Jim Grant who doesn’t know or care just precisely whom law enforcement “should” protect. The absolute way in which Grant is defined by his crime, in Redford’s view comes from the immoral and the amoral state apparatus thus. in this respect we could be living this story in Soviet union, Nazi Germany or any or totalitarian state, which film indicates , America ALREADY IS BECOME….except for our children.
Teach our children well
So Redford succeeds in this film by being able to separate idealism from the crowded souks of memory and regret…and mistakes people make, and presenting narrative for ready consumption, for whoever will go there. film can be “just a manhunt thriller” if you don’t…which brings us to remembered history.
America remembers its history through lens of its most successful. often there is no meaning in high concept fast food boutique burger place that is STILL making money, when there’s a Carl Jr open down road. Ceasar Chavez is remembered( black FBI Agent is named Cornelius, Chavez inspired leader of ” planet of Apes”) but only through lens of Dream Act.
How shall we, then teach history? It is unacceptable that the only way we can talk idealism to our children is by winning and becoming that which we despise.The film does not address mistakes our children will make , or even mistakes we made from accepting narrative histories from our parents, but at least it makes an effort (A for effort) at philosophical reflectiveness. If it makes more people introspect over these matters I think Redford would have succeeded way beyond anybody’s wildest sci-fi imaginations.