Like most individuals of our generation, we often find ourselves wondering in which decade we truly belonged. Are we kindred spirits with the flappers and prohibitionists of the roaring '20s? Would we have been the fastest typist in a Mad Men-era secretarial pool? More than a few times, we've felt the magnetic pull of the 1970s tugging on our heart strings — maybe it was the second wave of feminism, the pulse of disco music, or the bell-bottoms. Either way, there's something unmistakably fascinating about the era Tom Wolfe coined the "Me Decade," and we've never been more intrigued than after watching Robert Redford's The Company You Keep.
The indie flick, which also stars Shia LaBeouf, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, and Brit Marling, manages to harness the energy and vigor of the decade — even with a storyline that stays mainly in the present. A bit of background: Company tells the fictional story of The Weather Underground, a radical group of upper-middle class students whose Vietnam War protests turn violent.
After a series of bombings and an armed robbery gone awry, the group disbands and its members go underground to hide from the FBI. After more than 30 years, group member and fugitive Sharon Solarz (Sarandon) is finally caught, and sets off a massive manhunt for the rest of her partners — one of whom happens to be Redford's Jim Grant, who has been living a quiet life as a lawyer and single father in upstate New York. Enter Shia LaBeouf as a hard-pressed, relentless young journalist desperate to prove himself and track down Grant, and you've got a recipe for movie magic.
While the heart of The Company We Keep speaks to redemption for past wrongs, the strength of family, and the question of how far is too far, we were particularly captivated by the flick's commentary on the youth culture of the '70s protest — and the stark contrast to our experiences today. Redford doesn't attempt to glorify or endorse violence, but the film's characters are constantly debating the value of fighting for one's principles, and we can't help but admire the strength and fearlessness it took for the counter culture to stand up against the tragedies of the Vietnam War.
As Redford's character struggled with his past life in the Weather Underground — and his feelings of guilt for abandoning the cause in exchange for a quiet family life — we found ourselves wondering how we would have been involved with the anti-war movement. It's easy to get caught up in the sparkly Hollywood version of the era, but one look at our current generation has us doubting our tenacity.
And, we're not alone — Brit Marling, who plays a young law student involved with LaBeouf's journalist, posed the same questions at the flick's recent press junket. "The characters [in the movie] all felt a sense of radical accountability to their country, and I wonder where that sense of radical accountability is in my generation," she said. "How come we don't feel the same responsibility to be a voice for change and to really stand up for the things we say we believe in?"
If we're honest with ourselves, seeing a fictional movie that glorifies a turbulent time in history isn't enough to coax an entire generation into activism, but it sure did get us thinking. As Redford (who also directed Company) put it, "I don't think we're very good at looking at history as a lesson — we should be looking back in time and saying 'What can we learn from this?'"
The Company You Keep hits theaters April 5.