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The Company You Keep: Star-Studded Cast Failed by Wishy-Washy Script
With four Oscar-winners and five Oscar-nominees in the cast of political thriller, The Company You Keep, director and producer, Robert Redford, has made all our tails wag furiously.
However, it's also proven to be the film's undoing. With expectations running high, Redford's ninth directorial effort falls short and ultimately fails to live up to its potential.
The Company You Keep starts with archive video footage of news reports talking about the illegal activities that radical group, the Weather Underground, committed during the late 60's and early 70's in the US. The massive anti-war movement's violent acts included the bombings of several symbolic buildings and even left one man dead. After the incident, several of the group's members managed to go into hiding and have been on the FBI's watch list for over forty years.
Shifting its focus to the present, we meet Sharon Solarz (Sarandon); a suburban housewife and mother of two teenage kids who is arrested and brought in for questioning by the FBI on her role in the group's doings four decades ago. Her arrest grabs the attention of a persistent local reporter, Ben Shepard (LaBeouf), who – despite initial reservations from his bossy editor, Ray (Tucci) – decides to follow the story and see if he can dig up some dirt.
His relentless snooping eventually leads him to Jim Grant (Redford); a widowed lawyer who is busy caring for his twelve-year old daughter, Isabelle (Evancho). It turns out that Jim has a few secrets of his own and once he too decides to go on the run, we're introduced to lumberyard owner, Donald Fitzgerald (Nolte), subdued college professor, Jed Lewis (Jenkins), and veteran cop, Henry Osborne (Gleeson).
Based on Neil Gordon's 2003 novel of the same name, and adapted by the award-winning screenwriter, Lem Debs, The Company You Keep starts off strong. The introduction to the Weather Underground's activities is gripping and incredibly insightful, managing to pave the road ahead pretty well. However, once the story, and the truth, start to unravel, its premise becomes less and less interesting.
Chatty and rather predictable, Redford loses his way about halfway through the film, mainly thanks to the decision to bring more focus on the mechanics of the investigation, rather than shining a light on the complexities of the characters and their personal journeys.
Subsequently, the talented cast suffers. Christie, Gleeson, Jenkins and Tucci all possess incredible acting capacity, but are never really given the time and space to show it. Howard, who plays the leading FBI agent in the investigation, is his natural charming self, while LaBeouf seems a little out of depth in such a stern role. Redford meanwhile, seems a little reserved and displays little of his famous onscreen allure, while Sarandon, in her surprisingly short screen time, absolutely steals the show.
In the end, The Company You Keep suffers from a case of too many questions and very few answers; it's slow, unsurprising and incredibly wishy-washy about the message it's trying to deliver.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
On the surface, Robert Zemecki’s slick and a technically pristine WWII-set romantic-espionage-thriller looks like a winner. Boasting an impressive cast and a script by Peaky Blinders’ Steven Knight, everything about Allied points to success. However, although visually striking and overall satisfying in terms of action, it’s the film’s central story - the romantic pairing between Mr. Pitt and Ms. Cotillard – fails to ever really get going, leaving the film a little hollow and difficult to invest in.
Set in 1942, the story begins with the introduction of Canadian intelligence officer, Max Vatan (Pitt), who finds himself on a mission in Morocco with French Resistance fighter, Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), who is to play the role of his wife during a covert operation that involves assassinating a high-ranking Nazi official. After successfully carrying out their assignment, the pair’s pretend relationship soon turns into the real thing with the duo soon marrying and welcoming a baby girl into the world, as they settle in war-torn Britain.
However, things are soon turned upside down for Max when he is informed by his by-the-books boss, Frank Heslop (Mad Men’s Jared Harris), that Marianne is currently under investigation and that she, in fact, may be a Nazi spy. Given seventy-two hours to prove her innocence before he will need to kill her, Max soon sets out on his own investigation.
Aesthetically, the film embraces an old-Hollywood approach, with a certain sense of nostalgic glamour and elegance present through the minutes. Told through a wonderfully slick lens frequent Zemeckis collaborator, cinematographer Don Burgess, there's a certain style and sophistication to every single frame. But while the film is pleasing to the eye and Steven Knight’s script boasts plenty of moments of suspense and intrigue, there‘s a serious lack of heart missing from the story, which turns the more passionate moments into melodrama.
In addition, the romance between the two leads is never really sold. Both Pitt and Cotillard definitely look the part and when they are not onscreen together, their performances are affective. However, it’s when they share the screen and viewers are asked to buy into their love story that it all goes south. Allied is a functional and an effective WWII spy thriller. It’s just not as captivating or engaging of a romance-drama that it sells itself to be.