Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"The Company You Keep": A journalist is almost part of the posse in untangling a 30-year-old mystery of fugitives from the radical Left

The Company You Keep” shows the capabilities of a journalist, and also the people skills needed by “establishment” reporters to get the story and break a case open.  The film, from Voltage and Sony Pictures Classics (why not Columbia?) is directed by Robert Redford himself, and is based on the novel by Neil Gordon.

The movie is also a retrospect of the values of the extreme radical Left in the 1970s, and the reasons it took up violence.  It traces a little of the history of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the mutation to the Weather Underground.  The characters talk about the corporations and politicians on top, who thought nothing of sending draft notices and sacrificing less fortunate young men in Vietnam as cannon fodder.  The old problem of whose life counts the most inevitably comes up. 
There was a documentary “The Weather Underground” in 2003, by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, which would supplement this film.

As this new film (wide screen, 124 minutes) opens, 30-year fugitive Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is surrounded by FBI agents at a gas station near New York City.  She had planned to give herself up.  She has contacted lawyer Jim Grant (Robert Redford).  An eager reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) discovers that Grant is really Nick Sloan, a co-fugitive from the same fatal Michigan bank robbery.
Shepard, who is quite appealing as a character, is motivated by a combination of idealism and self-promotion. He goes to lengths that strain credibility. (At one point he bribes a clerk to get Sloan's SSN.)  I’m an “amateur” blogger and I do uncover things, and in my own way I probably take some arcane risks in doing so, but of a very different nature that the obvious ones in this movie – because the movie does have to entertain.  But consider the risks that reporters like Bob Woodruff took, getting a traumatic head wound in Iraq and recovering fully.  Anderson Cooper “paid his years” for years as a SE Asia reporter. Also interesting in films like this is how the names pof real newspapers are “greeked.”

A good question, that the film does not go into, would be the ability of journalists to protect sources, and it is not absolutely clear that bloggers like me could command the same privilege.  The script does demonstrate the "off the record" concept.

There are many other characters, played by A-listers.  They include Sloan’s young daughter (Jackie Evancho), Sloan’s brother (Chris Cooper), Henry (Brendan Gleeson), his daughter (Brit Marling), other fugitives (Julie Christie and Sam Elliott),  Sam’s boss (Stanley Tucci).

The official site is here

I did learn of the potentially violent possibilities of the radical Left back in 1972 when I “spied” on meetings of the Peoples Party of New Jersey.  I remember one in particular in a row house in Newark, New Jersey where even the young professional middle class (me) was seen as a parasitic enemy.  

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