Power to the (Gray) People

Saw Redford’s new movie “The Company You Keep” last night in the musty old Gateway Theater (est. 1951) in Ft. Lauderdale. The theater is three years younger than me and about ten years younger than Robert Redford and Julie Christie. The crowd on a Tuesday night was not big, but there were a lot of old Sixties couples in attendance. You looked around and looked at yourself and said, yeah man, some of us here we were the ones sitting on blankets listening to anti-war speeches before Steppenwolf came on stage.

In my college days we were in the middle of things. We had martial law, tear gas, beatings.  I knew of the groups mentioned in the movie and the general vibe of the Movement.  My father, who ran a travel agency in those days, sent me FBI WANTED posters he received for the kids up in Madison, WI who blew up a building. That showed me the times and the dangers were real.  Back then, the radicals were vigorously pursued, under limited technology of course (a lot relied on informers). It’s implausible that the FBI would be so zealous about tracking radicals down forty years later. But all the chase scenes and dogs and guns stuff was necessary to move the story, to make it typical box office fare.

The entertainment for me was watching Redford and Julie and Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte and other veteran actors re-create and fan the flames of the Sixties arguments and, as well, exhibit their consumate on-screen skills.

Julie is still striking. She played the most radical character, far-fetched, but what the hell.  Seeing lithe Julie piloting a sailboat to smuggle pot and hanging out in Big Sur with Sam Eliott, or gracing a dark cabin in the deep Michigan woods (as filmed in Canada) were pretty good visual moments on film.

As for the script, I was willing to buy into the “radical forever” bit and the longstanding loyal brotherhood and cover-up between perpetrators.  I was also willing to buy into Shia Labeouf’s role as Redford-warmed over, as young aggressive journalist.  (Shia was also fascinating to watch in his deft approach to chicks.)  I was relieved when Jackie Evancho skillfully portrayed Redford’s cute little pre-teen daughter and didn’t sing in the movie, though to hear her sing, like on PBS, is a trip unto itself.

The portrayal of the gung-ho FBI team was totally over the top.  The Feds track Redford as if he had an atomic weapon or had murdered Santa Claus. His character is an old benign Sixties protester, that’s all, who happened to be associated with some folks in the past who went too far.

We get plenty of chances to see old Robert running around in the woods with his backpack and jeans and scruffy hair, as if he were flashing back on behalf of all of us.