There’s a reason why our parents were concerned about the friends we made. As the adage goes, ‘You can know a man by the company he keeps.’ It’s the central theme behind the new Robert Redford film, The Company You Keep, demonstrating just how bad – and good – other people can be for you.
Redford directs and stars in this present-day drama about a group of Americans who’ve long been hiding from the law. The Weathermen were a home-grown terrorist organization that conducted bombings in the United States during the mid-1970s. They targeted banks and government buildings as symbols of an oppressive regime they accused of murdering its own citizens by forcibly sending them to Vietnam. In reality The Weathermen always warned their targets ahead of time so that evacuations could take place, but in The Company You Keep we meet three individuals implicated in a fictional bank robbery where a guard was deliberately shot. Thirty years on, the FBI get a lucky break and arrest one of the women involved. A nosey reporter following up the story manages to uncover the identity of Nick Sloan, a Weatherman who’s been practicing law for the intervening decades. Sloan goes on the run, desperate to accomplish a mysterious task before he’s caught in the FBI’s closing net.
The old revolutionaries
The Company You Keep is very well acted and has an intriguing plot. It includes a range of talent alongside of Redford – Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie – who do a brilliant job of portraying aging revolutionaries. Together they voice a healthy amount of criticism for present youth, whose objections to injustice rarely rise as far as actual action:
“They’re interested, they just don’t know what to do with it. They listen and clap and go update their Facebook status.”
Christie’s character, Mimi Lurie, is still committed to the cause, but Redford’s Sloan is questioning what they actually led each other into. They were so caught up in the politics, they allowed each other to neglect more significant responsibilities, like parenting:
Lurie: The struggle doesn’t end just because you get tired of it.
Sloan: I didn’t get tired of it. I grew up … we were so consumed with our principles we abandoned our fundamental duty.
The film rushes to its conclusion with Sloan attempting to be the ‘good company’ he should have been thirty years ago, reminding his friends of what is right rather than supporting their rebellion. The film evokes the Biblical principle that ‘bad company corrupts good morals’:
“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” (Proverbs 22:24-25)
It’s a healthy reminder that there are no short-cuts to righteousness, and any solution to a problem that involves sinning to set things right is a step in the wrong direction. Sure, Robert Redford looks a little old to be on the run and there are a few moments where believability is stretched to breaking, but all up The Company You Keep is a good reminder in an often morally vacuous world.
Watching The Company You Keep with your kids
There’s no violence or sex to be concerned about in this film, though the occasional profanity arises. What is present though is a young journalist in the form of Shia LaBeouf, who has to learn the lessons Redford has to teach. The strike up the secular equivalent of a Timothy-Paul relationship. So for a teenage audience it might be worth asking:
- What’s wrong with Shia LaBeouf approach to journalism?
- How does Robert Redford’s character provide him the ‘good company’ he needs?
- Every Christian is following in the footsteps of Christ, but whose footsteps are you trying to follow in your day-to-day life?