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THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

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C

Robert Redford’s on the run again in “The Company You Keep,” but—perhaps understandably in view of his advancing age—at a far slower pace than in “Three Days of the Condor” back in 1975. Or maybe it’s because he was also serving as director—an area in which his strength has always lain along more ruminative, melancholy lines—that the end result is so flaccid and low-powered. One misses Sydney Pollack’s touch with action scenes.

Redford stars as Jim Grant, a white-knight public interest lawyer in Albany, New York who’s also a doting single dad to his adorable young daughter (Jacqueline Evancho), a girl still grieving the loss of her mother, killed in a recent auto accident. Grant’s life is turned upside down, however, when Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), a local housewife, is arrested by the FBI after living under an assumed name for thirty years. She was a member of the Weather Underground, a violent offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society, and had long been sought for her participation in a Michigan bank robbery during which a security guard was killed.

Grant declines a plea from an old friend and former client, an organic farmer named Billy (Stephen Root), to defend Solarz, but that doesn’t stop ambitious young newspaper reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) from looking into Grant’s past. And it turns out that he has none before 1970—because he’s actually Nick Sloan, an old comrade of Solarz’s who’s also wanted for the murder. When Shepard publishes that revelation, Grant manages to leave his daughter with his younger brother Daniel (Chris Cooper) and go on the lam before intense FBI agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) and his aide Diana (Anna Kendrick)—by chance an old college squeeze of Ben’s—can arrest him.

That sends Ben off on a search for Grant/Sloan, despite the misgivings of his stern editor Ray Fuller (Stanley Tucci). His investigations are juxtaposed with Jim/Nick’s travels, which—it’s revealed—have as their object finding his former Weatherman colleague (and lover) Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie). His peregrinations take him to some old comrades—Donal Fitzgerald (Nick Nolte), now a grizzled contractor, and Jed Lewis (Richard Jenkins), now a college professor—to track her down. Also involved in the search for answers are Henry Osborne (Brendan Gleeson), the retired Michigan police chief who handled the original robbery case; his lovely adopted daughter Rebecca (Brit Marling), who takes a shine to Ben; and Mac McLeod (Sam Elliott), a wealthy investor who shelters Mimi for a time. Everything winds up in a way that unfortunately cops out; when you come right down to it, in the final analysis the movie lacks the courage of its convictions as much as some erstwhile radicals—like the one played by Elliott—who have abandoned their principles over the years.

Still, Lem Dobbs’ script, adapted from Neil Gordon’s novel, lays all this out reasonably well, even it doesn’t do much to make any of the characters, even Grant/Sloan, three-dimensional. And Redford doesn’t really bring any more to the party as actor than as director: he’s still ruggedly handsome, though the face is much more weathered—no pun intended—than one remembers from the old days. But his stoic, largely impassive performance is merely bland. LaBeouf, by contrast, brings too much personality to young Shepard, making him more obnoxious than lovably ambitious. Luckily the script provides some strong moments for the stream of supporting characters, and Christie, Elliott, Gleeson, Marling, Tucci, Cooper and Root—and especially Sarandon, Nolte and Jenkins—take full advantage of them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t extend to Howard and Kendrick, who are totally wasted in thankless roles as the FBI pursuers. On the technical side, the film is merely okay. Adriano Goldman ‘s cinematography at least avoids slickness, but its washed-out look isn’t very attractive, and the overall physical production is no more than adequate.

“The Company You Keep” is well-intentioned and relatively clear—it’s certainly superior to Redford’s pedantic talkfest “Lions for Lambs”—and it’s enjoyable to watch the fine supporting cast go through their paces. But it lacks the visceral energy that would raise it from the level of a curiously humdrum political thriller. It was Sidney Lumet’s similarly-themed 1988 film that was called “Running on Empty,” but it’s Redford’s that superior picture’s title actually reflects.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

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C

Derek Cianfrance’s third fiction feature, the follow-up to the well-received “Blue Valentine,” is certainly ambitious, a multi-generational saga of fathers and sons with distinctly fatalistic, tragic overtones. But the reach of “The Place Beyond the Pines” exceeds its grasp, and the result is intermittently powerful but ultimately disappointing.

The title is an English translation of Schenectady, New York, where the story is set, and what Cianfrance constructs is a three-act narrative that shifts focus from character to character in a fashion many viewers will find frustrating. The initial segment focuses on Luke (Ryan Gosling), a stunt motorcyclist in a traveling show that returns to the city on its regular tour. There he encounters Romina (Eva Mendes), with whom he’d had a typically brief fling on the last circuit. He discovers that she has an infant son—his, of course. And he decides to end his rootless existence and try to be a father to the boy, even though Romina is living with Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who’s protective of her and the child.

Luke now has no way of earning a living, however, so he falls in with a bank-robbing scheme suggested by Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), the low-life mechanic he takes a room with. Predictably, after some early success their scheme—which involves Luke performing the heist, jumping on his cycle and riding in into the back of a truck Robin’s ready to drive off in—falls apart, and Luke finds himself desperately trying to get away while rookie patrolman Avery (Bradley Cooper) I hot pursuit. Luke winds up shot to death by the young cop after breaking into a house and briefly holding a woman and her son prisoner.

The focus of the picture now shifts to Avery, who falls in with Deluca (Ray Liotta), a veteran on the force who introduces him to the dark side by forcing Romina to turn over to him and his crew the stash of money Luke had left behind for his son. But Avery—who’s hardly as callow as he initially seems—uses the clout of his ex-judge father (Harris Yulin) not only to bring down the gang of corrupt cops but to take advantage of his celebrity to turn to politics.

Fifteen years later, Avery’s running for governor, but at home his life is complicated by the arrival of his son AJ (Emory Cohen), who’s shunted off to him by his ex-wife (Rose Byrne). A surly, arrogant kid who’s also a drug user, AJ befriends his new classmate Jason, Luke’s son who’s been raised by Romina and Kofi. AJ takes advantage of the tense, fragile kid and gets him into trouble by enlisting him in an effort to buy drugs. When that leads Avery to recognize who Jason is, he steps in to keep the two boys apart, but his efforts fail; meanwhile Jason learns about his real father, and decides to deal his long-ago loss by taking aim at AJ and Avery.

The schematic character of this rather contrived scenario is evident. It’s reminiscent of a lot of earlier films, including “Home from the Hill,” Vincente Minnelli’s 1960 adaptation of William Humphrey’s novel, which treats some similar themes. But the script doesn’t manage to tie the various threads together with much success, and Cianfrance’s picture remains, despite its considerable length, more a blueprint than a well-wrought drama.

The film also becomes less effective as it goes along. The best portion is certainly the first, to which Gosling brings his familiar slow-burning intensity and Mendelsohn a convincing yokel appeal. When the focus shifts to Avery, the quality level drops, not only because Cooper doesn’t provide much character depth but because the entire crooked-cop subplot, complete with Liotta doing his standard turn as a steely-eyed villain, feels tired. The third act boasts an impressive turn by DeHaan, but it’s undermined by Cohen’s weak performance, which has an amateurish feel. Mendes, though underused, nonetheless gives the film some much-needed warmth—which can’t be said for Byrne, who’s pretty much wasted.

“The Place Beyond the Pines” is technically competent, with cinematography by Sean Bobbitt that meshes almost classic compositions with some jittery interludes and manages some impressive tracking shots. But overall the look of the picture isn’t as distinctive as one might hope.

This is one of those films that one has to respect. It raises intriguing questions about human relationships, and fashions some powerful characters. But in the end it fails to overcome its highly literary construction and its downward dramatic arc.