Robert Redford plays Jim Grant, a public interest lawyer with a past. He’s a single father raising his daughter in a tranquil suburb of New York. His world gets turned upside down when a journalist played by Shia LeBeouf exposes his true identity as a former 1970’s antiwar figure falsely accused of a bank robbery gone wrong. Since then he’s been leading a double life for 30 years, quite a long time to pretend to be someone else. With the FBI now hot on his trail, this movie takes twists and turns into the subjects of trust, loyalty, passage of time and friendships. Based on a book by Neil Gordon, the movie remains a work of fiction but strongly recalls the history and aftermath of the radical antiwar protest movement of the late 1960’s and early 70’s called the Weather Underground.
“Secrets are dangerous things, Ben. We all think we want to know them. But if you’ve ever kept one yourself then you understand to do so is not just knowing something about someone else, it’s discovering something about yourself.” Jim Grant (Redford’s Character)
This movie is really a cat and mouse game between two characters right?
I thought it was a good story and it gave you a chance to look inside of events that are a piece of American History. It truly gets inside how people were living their lives thirty years ago… underground and with a false identity. I was drawn to the material in the form of a big wide ranging book. It’s something that caught my attention. It took many years to put it together, almost like sculpting.
So the Weather Underground is the history that holds these characters together then?
This is about a group of people that were underground. They were very close, bonded by the styles of their time, the passions of the time, and now they’ve grown older and they’ve taken different paths. Some resent that they did it. Others have remorse. Some believed in it at the time, but feel they have to spend the rest of their lives paying for it. Others feel it was a just cause at the time and still is a cause for today. So there’s also all these multiple feelings and relationships – how they all interacted fascinated me.
It seemed like you used lots of stills from your previous movies to show images of your character when he was in the Weather Underground?
Yes I had to go thru old archives and find photos of myself which got me depressed. But yes, we used photos (stills) from Jeremiah Johnson and The Candidate for example. You can see them on the wall at the FBI office. What I was doing was using photos to help show what people look like when they age over time.
This movie seems to have the same thread you use to sew your films together: patchworks of family, politics and journalism.
Yes it does, I made those films for very specific reasons and very specific subjects, like one was about politics, another the family, and another about journalism. With this movie I decided to combine them all into one. So in this one, my character interfaces with the reporter and his relationship with his two daughters. This film is really more about a criticism about my own country. That over time we still do not learn from our own history. I was not part of the Weather Underground or any silly wars. But we do not seem to lean towards any positive change or learn as I said from our past.
What do you think of the media today?
It’s tricky because the media should be reporting the news. But now it’s about the internet. But I have such a keen interest in the media, it plays such a key role in our society, but it is threatened. The internet has so drastically alternated the industry of journalism. You have so much information and sometimes too much information. So how do you find the truth? Where does the public go to find the truth?
So what are the repercussions of all the vast over flow of all this info?
Not sure, but so much is coming at you. You have the far left and the far right. Eventually the public gets fed up and then turns away. With this film I saw the journalist character being important, a hint of a story I have always loved.
What stories inspired you when you were young?
There are two stories. I have always loved The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. I saw similarities in the journalist in my movie . I get accused of something I did not do, I escape, I live a clean life, I have daughter. You find out later in this film that I had to give up another daughter that meant a lot to me, then I have another small daughter. That was painful for my character and he did not want to make that mistake again with his second daughter. Yet there is someone on my tail. It makes it impossible for me to have a clear clean life so that was the idea that sparked me to make this film.
How did you both star in the film and direct it?
Because I’m nuts. To step in and out of both roles is not easy for me. I can do it. But it’s definitely not easy.
What about the film business today?
There is no money in the film business any longer. What is most important is to depend on the kindness of talented actors that want to work with you. Also of course the joy of working with me. (he laughs kiddingly.)
You have been in the business for 52 years, 30 films as a producer and nine as a director and 66 on screen roles. You won two Oscars. What is left to learn?
In a selfish way I find working with young artists inspiring. They have new ideas and you learn from them. You’re never too old or too successful to not be learning something. It keeps you alive and it keeps you questioning.
The Company You Keep starring Robert Redford and Shia LaBeouf is out now in theaters nationwide.