The Company You Keep - Robert Redford
The Company You Keep - Jim Grant (Robert Redford) ©2013 Sony Pictures Classics, photo by Doane Gregory

Robert Redford does double-duty with his new movie, The Company You Keep, opening on April 5th. Directing the film, he also portrays Jim Grant, a public interest lawyer and single father raising a daughter in Albany, New York. Grant’s life is turned upside down when a brash young reporter, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), exposes his true identity as a member of the Weather Underground, and a fugitive wanted for murder.

On the run, Grant must track down the one person who can clear his name, before the FBI or Shepard catch up with him.

Robert Redford spoke of the movie at the press day in New York.

What interested you about doing this project?

The Company You Keep - Shia LaBeouf
Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) ©2013 Sony Pictures Classics

From the time I was a little kid, I thought the novel Les Miserables was a great story. I saw similarities [in this film]. Shia LaBeouf’s character is Inspector Javert. I’m Jean Valjean, in the sense that I go to prison for something I’ve done that’s wrong.

I escape, I take on a new identity and I live a clean life. I have a daughter that means everything to me.

And yet there is someone on my tail that might expose me in a way that makes it impossible for me to have the true love of my daughter and a clean, clear life. That was the complexity that sparked me to make this film.

Have you had an opportunity to meet any of the radicals that are symbolically represented in this movie?

The Company You Keep - Robert Redford and Jackie Evancho
Jim Grant (Robert Redford) and Isabel Grant (Jackie Evancho) ©2013 Sony Pictures Classics

No. I didn’t feel I needed to. I saw a documentary several years that came to the Sundance Festival called The Weather Underground, and I felt that documentary was very well made about the actual people. I didn’t feel I needed to meet them.

Also, this was a piece of fiction that had to have the basis of truth to it. But it was really about their lives later. I was able to make the film I wanted to make, the way I wanted to make it, I’m proud of that.

What do you want people of the 21st Century to take from this movie about the legacy of the Weather Underground?

The Company You Keep - Robert Redford and Jackie Evancho
Jim Grant (Robert Redford) and Isabel Grant (Jackie Evancho) ©2013 Sony Pictures Classics

I would say probably the first thing would be that they rethink. [Some] films are designed in a way to at least make you ask questions afterwards, or think about what’s happened and dialogue with somebody. [Those are the films} I would prefer.

The second thing has to do with the criticism I have of my own country. I don’t think we’re very good at looking at history as a lesson to be learned, so that we don’t repeat a negative historical experience.

When this happened [years ago], I was of that age. I was [with] them in spirit, but because I was starting a career in the New York theatre as an actor, and I was also starting to have a family, I was obligated to that task, so I wasn’t a part of it.

But I was certainly empathetic to what they were doing, because I also thought it was a wrong war. I thought it was a war that was going to cost unnecessary lives.

It was also a war that was designed by people who had never gone to war, and it had a lot to do with a tragic history of the United States, and the mistakes it has made that they never seem to learn by.

Redford uses old photos of himself in the movie. He was asked about compiling them. Click here to listen to his remarks about growing older.

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.