Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Set Up to Fail

There are those movies where a single moment or relationship or portrayal can sink the whole damn film.  There's an excellent example of that at work in Robert Redford's new film "The Company You Keep."  It arrives very early on and effectively lands the rest of the movie in the "who cares" cinematic category.

But, unlike the film, I won't ruin the rest of my review by disclosing that problem in the very first paragraphs.  Allow me a little internet time for some back story.

Suffice it to say, I loved Redford's very first directorial attempt many moons ago.  "Ordinary People" was one of those movies that defined a particular time in my life and elevated my adult filmgoing taste to a higher level.  I doubt he's done anything since that could top that.  But he keeps on trying and, at the very least, you can describe him as a thoughtful filmmaker who tackles subjects that you should be thinking about.

And he does just that with "The Company You Keep" with a notion that is ripped straight out of the news headlines.  It's about friendly connections you might have had while in college during the Vietnam War protest years.  When you had English Literature 101 at 9AM and a campus bombing set for 11AM.  This movie is all about those folks years later and many are still on the lam for such dastardly deeds.  The plotline is perfect-a-mundo for those on the right who are still wringing their hands over President Obama's nefarious ties to this sort.  At the same time, the plotline is also perfect-a-mundo for those on the left who still wax poetic over these people who took government protests to more nefarious heights.  

Indeed, there is a little something to like or hate for everybody.  Of course, Redford, who's never been accused of being a Fox News viewer, tells a tale that is rather sympathetic to the cause as the FBI finally closes in on a group of students who were involved in a terrorist bank job in the early 70s.  There's a fun prison reunion up ahead for characters played by Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, and any other old bleeding heart liberal actor Bob could find at the latest SAG meeting.

Redford plays an upper New York State lawyer who was part of that fringe element but may or may not have been part of the actual killing of a bank guard at the scene of the crime.  He's been in hiding under an assumed name and identity, but still manages to work as an attorney, which tells me the New York State Bar Association is a little sloppy in their background checks.  Nevertheless, Redford is ferreted out by an Albany, NY report played with annoyance by Shia LaBeouf and, for once, our still-blonde hero is dogged by the same type of pesky reporter he once played in "All The President's Men."  Suddenly, the notepad is in the other hand, heh, Bob?

Well, all this poking around forces our erstwhile director and star to go on the run.  To either clear his name or stay out jail.  The audience doesn't quite know at the outset.  But, before he does so, he has to make sure his 11-year-old daughter is safe.

And there's the problem right in front of us in the very first reel.  I told you I would get to it.  Redford on screen looks every bit of the 76 years he has lived.  There are more lines in his face than in a Magellan map guide.  But, with the kid, he looks completely and utterly out-of-place.  The script tries to explain it away by saying he married a young woman who was later killed in a car accident.  But, in their interactions, there is not a single ounce of connectivity between a father and a daughter.  The relationship looks comatose and it is not helped by the fact that neither Redford or Jackie Evancho as the kid look right together.  As a result of this distinct lack of chemistry, you don't buy for a moment Redford's fervent need to protect his daughter and clear his name.  

In the very first reel, the movie falls into "minus Jeopardy" and never really gets out.

Oh, it held my interest and I was very much entertained by all the fun little gadgets the FBI has at its disposal.  Plus the always-welcome Anna Kendrick is one of the government agents and I could watch her all day.

Trust me, I could have easily endured the overly-sympathetic portrayal of those folks who blew shit up and killed innocent citizens in their maddening attempt to protest the government.  I could have forgiven some of the bizarre plot twists at the end that made no sense once you gave them more than thirty seconds of your brain time.

But I can't accept a screen pairing that just looks awkward and has zero heat, especially when it's so integral to the story.  I remember seeing a photo several years ago of that idiot Larry King holding his new infant.  It looks like Grandpa holding a baby and not knowing what to do with it.  It seemed all wrong.

And, as a result, so does "The Company You Keep."

Dinner last night:  Leftover meat loaf.


Anonymous said...

Another example of Redford's vanity. It's obvious the child should be his granddaughter but Big Stud Bob doesn't want to be called Grampy.

It's like the ridiculous 30-years-younger girlfriend these aging actors must have. Not real for a minute, but it's a Hollywood staple.

Play your age, Bob.

Anonymous said...

BTW, my leftover meat loaf was delicious.