There's nothing chic about the radicals of the 1960s in Robert Redford's dramatic thriller "The Company You Keep." For one thing, they're all about 70 years old. They have children, houses, spouses, jobs and, occasionally, false names. It's hard to look dangerous and sexy when you're busy blending in and glancing over your shoulder.
In his ninth feature, Redford directs himself as Nick Sloan, a fictional member of the real Weather Underground, the militant anti-war group (note the inherent problem) whose Vietnam protests escalated from marches to bombings; former members robbed an armored car in 1981, resulting in the deaths of two policemen and a guard. The Weathermen, named for that famous line from a Bob Dylan song, began fading sometime around the early disco era and many members eventually either went legit or into hiding.
Or both. Sloan is now Jim Grant, a well-respected Albany lawyer with a preteen daughter (a charming Jackie Evancho), but his cover is finally blown by young reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf, convincingly rumpled and pushy). Still wanted for a decades-old murder, Sloan goes on the lam, but his illogical movements convince Shepard that there's a more complicated story to be uncovered.
The cloak-and-dagger stuff gets muddied by too many crisscrossing characters, though they're played by fine actors like Anna Kendrick, Brit Marling, Terrence Howard and a brief but sparkling Susan Sarandon.
The film's real payoff comes whenever Sloan tracks down his former comrades-in-arms, now living unexpectedly peaceable new lives. Donal (Nick Nolte) runs a lumberyard and Jed (Richard Jenkins) is a history professor. Only Sloan's former flame, Mimi, played by an enjoyably icy Julie Christie, remains an elusive free spirit.
"The Company You Keep" works largely thanks to Lem Dobbs' thoughtful script (from Neil Gordon's 2003 novel), though Redford's understated directing helps. The film offers a lot to chew on for boomers -- and for aging punks and indie-rockers -- who may still be wondering whether they made a separate peace with The System or simply gave up the fight.
PLOT A young reporter discovers that a well-respected lawyer is actually a 1960s radical wanted for murder.
RATING R (some strong language)
BOTTOM LINE Redford's ninth feature is framed as a thriller, but it works best as a drama about one generation's inexorable drift toward compromise. Thoughtful and well acted, with lots for boomers to think about.