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That Robert Redford Film on Radical Fugitives Deserves Your Attention | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

That Robert Redford Film on Radical Fugitives Deserves Your Attention

For the past month, in a change of direction, I’ve written mainly weekly, media-related “columns” here, as opposed to the daily, shorter, “blog” posts that I produced for the three years previous. Going forward, starting this week, I’ll be mixing it up, with both full-length pieces and shorter takes. The following falls in the latter category.

It’s a flawed film, but I’m surprised that not a single writer here has explored The Company You Keep, directed by (and starring) Robert Redford. It portrays several Weather Underground members who became fugitives after a bank guard was killed in one of their robbery attempts. I saw it a couple of days ago and was glad I did.

Of course, I am a veteran of political activism in the late-’60s and early-’70s, but beyond that, the story has a local angle for me. I happen to presently live about a mile from where the incident that inspired the movie (via a novel) took place: the infamous “Brinks Holdup” near Nyack, New York. that resulted in the death of a Brinks guard and two local police officers. I drive by the memorial to them almost every day. The local post office is named after the two slain cops.

Then there’s this topical angle: Kathy Boudin, who was involved in that episode, and paroled after serving a long prison term, is back in the news, amid protests of her appointment to teach at New York University Law School. Just last year, a David Mamet play, also inspired by the Brinks case, starring Debra Winger, appeared on Broadway.

Since this is one of my shorter “blog posts,” so I won’t go into the Redford movie much, but basically: He plays a fellow charged with taking part in that fictional fatal bank robbery, who has carved out a career as a liberal lawyer in upstate New York under a new name, before he is outed after three decades (by reporter Shia “Sleepy” LaBeouf). It’s all tied to another still-radical fugitive (a riveting Susan Sarandon, see clip) finally getting caught.

And then there’s a third former/current radical, Julie Christie, also on the run (and, like Sarandon, neither apologetic nor demonized).  Plus old friends, antiwar liberals who may or may not want to help Redford, though he may be innocent, because he hurt their cause back in the day with the Weather Underground’s violent rhetoric, which allegedly turned folks against the progressive cause.

Like I said, it’s not a great film (for one thing, Sarandon disappears), but it’s refreshing to see a serious, well-acted, mainstream “political” movie that may slip, but does not sell out, in the end—and the heart of it is that discussion of taking illegal steps to halt greater evil vs. a work-within-the-system approach. Yes, it could and should be better, but it's kind of amazing that this is being viewed by at least a few people in malls across the land.  And it's useful to be reminded that despite the huge, peaceful protest marches of 1968-1970, the Vietnam war dragged on, and on.

Here’s the trailer. For a look at controversy around a quite different political movie, see my new book Hollywood Bomb.

 

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