IN the wake of recent events in Boston, a fictional film about 1970s-era domestic terrorism and its lasting consequences is a sad reminder - as if one is really necessary - that student activism, anti-government protests and the violence that inevitably follows have always been unwanted features in America's political landscape.
The Company You Keep is a political thriller that - aside from a hokey love-interest element - doesn't stray too far from reality. The film, directed by Robert Redford, written by Lem Dobbs and based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gordon, focuses on a long-retired radical and the pesky young reporter intent on uncovering his secrets.
Given his age (76), Redford is an infrequent screen presence nowadays and over four decades removed from his heyday as a Hollywood golden boy (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969), but he has been known to favour roles that champion political causes before - he played Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in All the President's Men (1976), which recounted the Watergate scandal.
The Company You Keep never rises above adequate on the entertainment scale but as a film for grown-ups in an industry where juvenile tastes rule, it acquits itself well with a storyline that holds up under scrutiny. The movie is equal parts mystery and suspense, and there's the added bonus of watching actors of a certain vintage squeezing the most out of their limited screen time.
The film opens with a montage of footage depicting anti-Vietnam War protests in the 1970s, spliced with closed-circuit shots of a 1980 bank robbery by a fictional militant student group known as the Weather Underground, in which a guard is killed.
We are then transported to the present day, where a member of the group (Susan Sarandon), who has been living the quiet life of a suburban housewife, inexplicably allows herself to be arrested by the FBI.
Her capture threatens to unravel the life of Jim Grant (Redford), a former fellow radical who has reinvented himself as an attorney in upstate New York.
Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), an ambitious small-town reporter with a desire to make the big time, senses that this is the story that will make his career.
He exposes Grant's real identity - forcing the latter to go on the run - and then sets off in hot pursuit, with an FBI agent (Terrence Howard) not far behind. We're not sure if Shepard is interested in uncovering the truth or merely advancing his career.
With young daughter Isabel (Jackie Evancho) in tow, Grant heads west to find Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), a former lover/collaborator who can vouch that he was not involved in the robbery.
Along the way, he encounters characters from his past, including a former friend (Nick Nolte), a fellow radical (Richard Jenkins) and the retired cop (Brendan Gleeson) who investigated the original bank robbery.
A sub-plot involving the cop's daughter (Brit Marling) complicates matters further, and everything culminates in a remote cabin in the Great Lakes.
In essence, The Company You Keep is about the decisions that people make, and the consequences they suffer. Redford, who is a little long in the tooth, nevertheless shows himself to be a capable filmmaker - motivated by his personal politics but with strong commercial values as well.
Unlike the character he plays he doesn't take many creative risks here, but then a bit of Bob is more than what many others can muster.