The Company You Keep
What’s with Robert Redford, anyway? The last movie he directed, The Conspirator (2010) tried to make Mary Surratt, a woman who could stand as the most notorious villain in American history, into a misunderstood hero. Surratt was the mother of one of the conspirators who were involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. She could have stopped it. Instead, she helped the conspirators, was caught, tried, and hung, and properly so because the evidence against her was overwhelming. Redford’s movie cooked the books by ignoring the evidence against her and presented her as a sympathetic figure.
Now he bases this film on the case of Kathleen Ann Soliah, who was a member of the notorious Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and participated in a bank robbery that resulted in the death of 42-year-old Myrna Opsahl, a mother of four who was in the bank depositing money for her church. Soliah immediately went underground, marrying, having children and living a quiet life in Minnesota before she was caught decades after the robbery and rightfully sentenced to prison.
Redford changes her name to Sharon Solarz (leftwing icon Susan Sarandon), makes her a member of the Weather Underground (of which the equally notorious Bill Ayers was a leader) and the result is this sympathetic movie about people who bombed the Pentagon and other government offices decades ago.
Redford’s idea here is to put a human face on these violent ideologues. His theme seems to be that if something happened a long time ago and people have been in hiding and leading exemplary lives, let’s just forget the bombings and violent deeds for which they were responsible. Naturally, the nature of the crimes they committed is minimized so that their crimes seem not to be anything other than memories. Redford apparently feels there should be no responsibility or punishment for what they did. (In fact, very few Weather Underground people were prosecuted for two reasons: illegal government wiretaps and amnesty granted by President Carter.)
Redford plays one of the members of the group who has also been living underground. Journalist Shia LaBeouf becomes suspicious and when Redford goes on the run, LaBeouf tracks him. Even though the basis of the film is offensive to lots of people who aren’t sympathetic to people who bomb government buildings, it is still a very entertaining film if you can suppress your opinion of the people who are pictured with such empathy by fellow-traveler Redford.
The cast is A-list, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Terrence Howard, Julie Christie, Stanley Tucci, and Anna Kendrick, all of whom are a pleasure to watch. But better than that is the presence of Sam Elliott, who has spent much of the past 30 years as a voice for commercials and animated films. Elliott has been a favorite of mine for a long time. His Lifeguard (1976) is one of history’s most underrated and underappreciated films.
There are dialogues that seem intended to picture these people as repentive, and originally misguided in their methods but are now basically harmless if not irrelevant. These scenes reminded me of the line from West Side Story when the Jets are justifying their violent behavior by telling Officer Krupke, “We’re depraved because we’re deprived.” I kept thinking of Myrna Opshahl and her children and couldn’t muster much sympathy for Redford and Christie and the rest of their compatriots.
Redford is a talented director and this movie epitomizes that talent. The point of the film irritated me, but I also enjoyed it, unlike Redford’s The Conspirator.
This is another of those action movies that seem to be aimed solely at people who like to sit around and waste their time playing video games hour after hour. In fact, G.I. Joe was created by the toy company Hasbro as a line of action figures. The figures were adapted to video games beginning in 1983. A new game was created to coincide with the release of the first movie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in 2009. As might be expected, this sequel is full of totally mindless, idiotic, incredible scenes where bullets are sprayed like water, yet rarely does a hero get scratched. The two big-name stars are Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis. Johnson is back to his “The Rock” persona, and more’s the pity. Because the film was on the shelf for an extended period (see below), Johnson looks a lot buffer than he does today.
As to Bruce, he has been done in by the success of the Die Hard series where one man takes on impossible odds and prevails. I know that there is a lot of money in junk like this, but it should be limited to people who can’t act. Both Willis and Johnson are good performers with range beyond that required of action heroes. They put in their time with this stuff, now it’s time to move on, although Willis is getting a little long in the tooth. Johnson, however, could have a rewarding career in front of him, and by rewarding I don’t mean just financially but professionally. He has to decide whether he would rather be Paul Newman or Arnold.
If you’re not into cartoon figures and video games (I’m not) it’s a little difficult to determine the good guys from the bad guys at the outset, although I suspected that one guy who looked like he might be a good guy was, in reality, a well-established bad guy.
The scenes are nothing if not ludicrous. The fights are ridiculous. The story is something about a bad guy who takes over the U.S. government and has a fiendish plan for the rest of the world. It’s up to the three G.I. Joes left in the world to save the world. The way they do it is incomprehensible and absurd, but that’s what you get when you pay your money for a movie like this.
What’s really awful about this and others of its ilk is that the solutions, scenes, and resolutions defy any explanation. The filmmakers just make something happen that couldn’t possibly happen. Just as a for instance, in this thing, three men are imprisoned in a capsule containing a liquid solution that puts them, paralyzed, in suspended animation. Suddenly one of them breaks out and frees the other two. It is absolutely impossible for this to happen and it is not explained how he does it. But he had to get out of the capsule or the movie wouldn’t move forward, so, viola! out he comes! This type of thing happens time and again in this movie.
This film was scheduled to be released in June, 2012, but when Paramount received dismal feedback from screenings it was yanked for some reshoots, apparently to build up the role of Channing Tatum who dies at the outset. But he still dies at the outset and it’s still mind-numbingly moronic.
All of that said, the 3-D (which was added after the release was delayed) is spectacular. The film might be worth seeing for the CGI-created stunts and the 3-D. But I wish they’d stop making frivolous nonsense like this.