by tt stern-enzi
Robert Redford always works with one of the most exclusive guest lists. He proves the adage, “if you build it, they will come,” from Field of Dreams (a film that feels like a spiritual cousin to Redford’s oeuvre), true, whether we’re talking about that little film festival of his out in Park City or any one of his directorial efforts. All it takes is for Redford to dream a dream and as soon as he wakes, there’s a path beaten to his door, crowded with eager and willing participants, friends all.
It is surprising though, to consider that he has stepped behind the camera less than a handful of times. He’s only got nine directing credits, yet it feels like there should be at least twice as many, possibly because his projects tends to earn such high acclaim. Right off the bat, back in 1980, Redford announced his presence on the scene with Ordinary People, snagging four Academy Awards, including Best Director honors for Redford. As soon as he walked in the room, he took over the party.
My favorite, 1994’s Quiz Show, epitomizes his command of the scene though, his siren-like ability to draw in the best and the brightest. The film, based on the true story about the quiz show scandal, has an obvious contemporary hook that spoke to our willingness to be hoodwinked and the unfathomable desire to seek fame (which slides down the slippery slope to infamy at the slightest provocation), but Redford dazzles us with an embarrassment of riches. Ralph Fiennes stars as fallen idol Charles Van Doren with Rob Morrow as his foil, Dick Goodwin, the man who exposes the fix, the honor roll also includes John Turturro, David Paymer, Hank Azaria, Christopher McDonald, and Mira Sorvino. Of course, the true attraction is Best Supporting Actor nominee Paul Scofield, who gloriously holds court as patriarch Mark Van Doren. The father-son exchanges between Scofield and Fiennes invite audiences into an inner sanctum, a velvet-roped area that feels appropriately hallowed.
The Company You Keep, Redford’s latest, banks on that allure of exclusivity, matching it up with political and social commentary that caters to his base, with the added bonus of his presence in front of the cameras. He plays Jim Grant, a small-town lawyer, principled in his approach to the law while also maintaining a loving home for his young daughter Isabel (Jackie Evancho). You see, Grant’s a widower, which provides reason enough for him to stick to this private practice, tucked away from the hustle and bustle that we surely see that he could handle, under different circumstances.
And yet, all at once, when Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) finds herself cornered at a gas station one morning by the FBI, led by Special Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard), a long-held chain of events starts unraveling. Thanks to the luck and persistence of a reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), we discover that Grant is actually Nick Sloan, a former Weather Underground member, a decades-long fugitive sought for a bank robbery gone awry that resulted in the death of a security guard. Grant/Sloan hits the road again, staying one crucial step ahead of the FBI and Shepard, while searching for the one person capable of clearing his name.
Company is quite the party. Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, and Anna Kendrick join those previously mentioned, but the star is one still-making a name for themselves. That would be Brit Marling, who appears, seemingly out of nowhere, crashing the event, as a minor player, a walk-through, that you just know has to meaning something, because the plot demands it.
Yet, because it is Marling, the indie writer & star of a pair of speculative works – Another Earth and Sound of My Voice – with another on the way (The East), there’s so much more potential at play. Nothing about Marling’s presence screams or draws undue attention. There is a stillness to her, and she exerts an almost gravitational hold on the camera, holding, steadying our focus. Quite simply, she’s hypnotic, calming. And besides her indie work, she’s made brief appearances in larger films, Arbitrage and now Company, using her undeniable mutant power to alter these landscapes as well.
Company, for all its familiar, above the line star power, is ultimately a rather conventional tale. It is dressed up, snazzily, and well-attended, but the only real charge comes from Marling. Since her arrival on the scene, I’ve been beating the drum for her, sounding the call to alert audiences that there’s something special about this young woman. And, it seems, that Redford has joined the bandwagon. He invited her to his fancy affair, but wasn’t fully aware that she might sneak in through the back door, play the alluring wallflower, and then saunter out the front door, leaving this good Company bewildered and more than a little sad and lonely.