Movie Review ~ The Company You Keep

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A former Weather Underground activist goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity.

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Robert Redford, Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Susan Sarandon, Stephen Root, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Jackie Evancho, Stanley Tucci, Brit Marling, Nick Nolte

Director: Robert Redford

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: The first of two movies that Robert Redford starred in in 2013 was this curious little project that Redford also sat comfortably in the director seat for.  Though the film came and went with very little fanfare, I’d expect some collateral buzz to be drummed up for it when Redford is (hopefully) nominated for an Oscar for his career-high work in All is Lost.

Redford has seen more action as a director lately and he seems to be enjoying this part of his career which appears to be having a slow moving but surefooted renaissance.  It’s known that Redford is picky about the material he’ll take on as an actor and perhaps more so with his directing work which makes The Company You Keep all the more puzzling because it’s one of those half-there efforts that no one seems particularly invested in.

Scanning the cast list I get the notion that Redford peppered his film with actors he’s long wanted to work with and vice versa.  Why else would some big name stars drop in for what amounts to glorified cameos in an independent picture?  I kept thinking that actors like Richard Jenkins (White House Down, Jack Reacher) were just stopping by for lunch in Sundance when Redford asked if they could film a quick scene before dessert was served.

When Redford’s activist past is exposed by an opportunistic journalist (Shia LaBeouf, Lawless), he goes on the run and works his way through people from his younger days he’s long forgotten and who would just as soon forget about him.  Even with their brief screen time Oscar winners Susan Sarandon (Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Robot & Frank) and Julie Christie are effective as two fellow radicals that re-enter Redford’s present in two very different ways.  And keep your eyes out for Brit Marling (The East), Stanley Tucci (Jack the Giant Slayer), Nick Nolte (Cape Fear, I Love Trouble), and Terrence Howard (Prisoners) in the aforementioned brief supporting turns.

An overlong film, The Company You Keep winds up feeling like the guest that won’t take the hint to go thanks to several false endings.  While it’s diligently made like most Redford films are, there’s an evident emptiness at the core that doesn’t give the film any lasting weight past the final credits — that’s a shame when you consider the might of the stars Redford has assembled.

I should add it also doesn’t help that Redford has cast LaBeouf who continues to be one of the more overrated yet increasingly disliked actors in Hollywood.  Known for badmouthing his costars and film projects, LaBeouf had an overdue denouement at the end of 2013 when it came out that one of his short films was plagiarized from preexisting work.  It’s hard to take him seriously as a flawed film persona because LaBeouf’s personal persona is so much worse.

That casting aside, there’s admittedly a level of sophisticated maturity that should prove interesting to the more astute viewer.  I absolutely suggest you see Redford’s solemn work in All is Lost before taking this one on (he’ll also appear in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) but if you’re a Redford devotee or a fan of the political dramas/thrillers of the late 70’s you may find something worth your time here.

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Movie Review ~ The East

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An operative for an elite private intelligence firm finds her priorities changing dramatically after she is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations.

Stars: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Patricia Clarkson

Director: Zal Batmanglij

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 116 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: It might be easy to dismiss The East as another indie granola thriller with an activism agenda but it’s thanks to a nuanced script co-written by star Brit Marling (Arbitage, Sound of My Voice) and director Zal Batmanglij and some seriously layered performances that should put your movie compass due north toward this nicely constructed film.

Indie-darling Marling has had a boon of opportunity in the last few years turning up in several well reviewed flicks that may not have made much of a dent at the box office but upped her street cred in Hollywood causing many to take notice.  Resisting the urge to snap up roles in any number of summer blockbusters, Marling instead took a more creative route by rounding up her frequent collaborator Batmanglij and gathering a crackerjack cast for her urban potboiler.

As Sarah, an agent recruited by a mysterious intelligence firm to find a way to get inside a grassroots anarchist group targeting specific big money companies, Marling convincingly gets under the skin of her character. Without laying it all out for us she shows us the complexities of the work, what it takes to burrow in and gain trust, and the toll that double life takes on the psyche.  Starting off wanting the opportunity to succeed more than having much conviction for the job, Sarah eventually winds up in the wooded compound of the members of The East including Skarsgård (Disconnect) as charismatic leader Benji and Ellen Page (Juno) as cautious rebel Izzy.

It may not seem like it on a first viewing but Marling and Batmanglij have gone to great lengths to get all their ducks lined up in a row.  As the lines get blurred between what side is actually doing the most damage, Sarah sees a new challenge in adapting to the way of life the members of the group chose to live…eventually losing herself in the world she’s created.

The whole set-up isn’t anything truly original because we’ve seen these types of undercover movies dozens of times.  What makes The East so different is the way it chooses to present the material in scenes that feel fresh and don’t spell out what the motivations are of anyone involved.  Everyone seems to be hiding something and as soon as one secret is revealed a host of new questions emerge.  The movie has a nice rhythm, allowing the characters and the tension to grow as the story progresses – not everything works out like you think it will and several times I was pleasantly surprised as a new wrinkle was introduced.

If anything, the movie is recommended on the strength of one performance.  Patricia Clarkson.  The head of the security firm that assigns Sarah, Clarkson’s character is colored with one of the most crisply sinister edges in quite some time and that’s not something that is thanks only to the script.  I’ve been a fan of Clarkson for some time but her purring ice queen is truly something to behold.

Though The East may not pop to the top of your list during this busy summer movie season, do try and seek it out when it’s available for viewing at home in the fall.  There’s a real depth to the message and a skill in the delivery that’s rare to find nowadays.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ The East

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Synopsis: An operative for an elite private intelligence firm finds her priorities irrevocably changed after she is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations.

Release Date:  May 31, 2103

Thoughts:  Here’s an interesting one for you.  Writer/star Brit Marling has been slowly building a comfy career in indie Hollywood with high profile roles in lower profile films.  After a strong turn alongside Richard Gere in Arbitage, Marling re-teams with her Sound of My Voice director/collaborator Zal Batmanglij for this thriller focused on a woman that becomes immersed with a group out to expose eco problems within big corporations.  With an interesting support cast that includes Patricia Clarkson and  Alexander Skarsgård (Disconnect), Marling may have a breakthrough film on her hands.  Though the first preview made the film look a bit too pat, this second trailer indicates a taut little indie awaits us at the end of May.