Based on the notorious extremist political group, the Weather Underground, Robert Redford's The Company You Keep is an understated, yet probing look at the power of harboring a secret and the emotional damage it can wreak. Adapted from Neil Gordon's fictionalized account of several Weather Underground members who have managed to evade the FBI for thirty years, Lem Dobbs' (who most recently wrote the script for Haywire) rendering of the material unfolds almost instantly as a thriller--urging its viewers to solve the mystery of the Weather Underground members as reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) investigates on behalf of the Albany Sun-Times. After the FBI arrests Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon, with her usual ethereal aura), one of several members of the Weather Underground who have managed to carve out new identities for themselves since a 1980 bank robbery in Michigan resulting in the death of a security guard, the cracks in the events that really took place start to rip apart at the seams.
Under the identity of Jim Grant, Nick Sloan (Redford) has been able to live in Upstate New York as a successful defense lawyer. Although his wife is deceased, his daughter, Isabel (Jackie Evancho), is his sole priority. Thus, when Solarz comes forward/is preemptively arrested by Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard), Sloan immediately puts his guard up--especially after Shepard interviews him about his ties to Billy Cusimano (Stephen Root), who refers Solarz to an attorney recommended by Sloan. With his sense of safety rapidly deteriorating, Sloan takes Isabel away in the middle of the night to arrange a rendezvous with his brother, Daniel (Chris Cooper), so that he can leave her in his care while he begins a quest to find his former flame and fellow Weather Underground member, Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie, who I will never not associate with Doctor Zhivago). Increasingly intrigued by the members of this defunct organization, Shepard sets out to Ann Arbor, Michigan--where Solarz is slated to stand trial--in spite of his boss', Ray Fuller (Stanley Tucci, because every person ever is in this film), insistence that he will not pay for any of the expenses.
One of the key people Shepard has in mind for questioning is former police chief Henry Osborne (Brendan Gleeson), who has consistently averted his calls until finally Shepard finds him at the Yacht Club with some of his old cronies. It is there that Shepard first encounters Henry's daughter, Rebecca Osborne (Brit Marling), who he seems to take an instantaneous interest in. Osborne brushes Shepard off, promising that they'll talk another time. In the meantime, Sloan has contacted two former Weather Underground members, including Donal Fitzgerald (Nick Nolte) and Jed Lewis (Richard Jenkins), a former member of Students for a Democratic Society. With their (somewhat) reluctant help, Sloan gets the lead he needs to track down where Mimi is going next.
With the FBI still trying to cluelessly piece together the puzzle themselves, Shepard is the only one who has even the vaguest notion of what is actually going on. Now taking a uniquely personal interest in his investigation, Shepard coerces Rebecca into going out with him for coffee, during which time he grills her about her life and whether or not she thinks her father is hiding some element of the truth from her. Angered by his insinuations, Rebecca reminds him that printing anything without hard facts is considered libel. With a momentarily cold trail, Shepard does some research on the relationship between the Lurie and Osborne families, revealing a mysterious property just below Canada that is still privately owned by one of them.
When Ben's research finally culminates in finding Sloan again, Sloan is calm and complacent after having just spent all night urging Mimi to give up the ghost of a lost cause. Now that Ben has unearthed Sloan's final secret, Sloan tells him that
"Secrets are a dangerous thing, Ben. We all think we want to know them, but if you've kept one to yourself, you come to understand that doing so, you may learn something about someone else, but you also discover something about yourself. I hope you're ready for that."
Moved and haunted by his words, Ben cannot bring himself to break the story he had intended to, revealing something about his character that he was, indeed, not prepared to learn.
While The Company You Keep is, at times, a fantastical story, the genuine emotions that are gradually dredged up--as well as the character relationships--are what hold your attention for the entire duration of the film. It also proves that Redford's commitment to cinema, both as an actor and in furthering its quality as a director and producer, is stronger than ever.