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After a string of recent misfires, Robert Redford finally hits the mark with The Company You Keep, a taught and gripping thriller that examines both the quest of youth for personal definition, and the generational fissures that it can lead to. Combining a stellar cast of veterans including Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte with talented up-and-comers, particularly a fierce and focused Shia LeBeouf, Redford pulls us into this fascinating world of antiwar radicals, but never lets us forget the consequences of their idealism.

Ben Shepard (LeBeouf) is a young upshot reporter trying to make a name for himself amid the dying world of printed journalism. Despite possessing a lowly position at the Albany Times, not to mention a boss (Stanley Tucci) weary of his professional desperation, Shepard is convinced that his talent and idealism will soon lead to his own Deepthroat-style journalistic breakthrough. Fortunately, our young buck gets his shot at glory when middle-aged, Vermont homemaker, Sharon Solarz (Sarandon) is arrested by the FBI. Though seemingly living a Norman Rockwell life for the past few decades, Solarz’s past involves being a member of a radical anti-war group called The Weatherman; a stringent collective of  activists who led a violent protest on a Michigan Bank in the late 60’s that led to the murder of an innocent security guard.

Along with two of her co-conspirators, Sharon has been on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for 40 years, and you better believe that her arrest just whets law enforcement’s appetite to apprehend the others. Luckily for Redford’s Jim Grant, a kind Mayberry-esq widowed lawyer, quietly raising his young daughter (America’s Got Talent finalist, Jackie Evancho) in the rural burbs of upstate New York, their trail isn’t exactly hot. That is, until young Ben discovers Jim’s secret, and the green reporter must decide for himself whether or not it is worth dredging up the past for the sake of professional glory, no doubt destroying countless innocent lives in the meantime.

It’s quite the conundrum facing Mr. Shepard, and one that in many ways we’ve been asking ourselves for years now (Redford did in All The President’s Men), but that doesn’t mean that we’ve come any closer to the answers. Screenwriter Lem Dobbs has crafted an insightful and emotional screenplay from the novel by Neil Gordon, but it’s Redford, for whom the questions of aging, mentorship, and consequence seem to grow deeper with the passing years, that wrings the most urgency from this passion project. The director understands that young people often lionize the truth above all else, but as we age and are forced to confront the greying of life that occurs when issues and allegiances blur, things can change dramatically. Redford and Dobbs brilliantly question, not only what is our path in life and what must we do to get there, but also, what happens when we’re not exactly happy with the route we’ve chosen.

Fortunately, with such an emotionally complex, potentially heavy subject, Mr. Redford wisely keeps the directing focused and un-flashy. This allows him to indulge in his true gift as a filmmaker, coaxing brilliant, fully realized performances from his cast. For all of his controversial off-screen drama, LeBeouf continually invests his screen roles with go-for-broke passion and charisma. Here, he successfully carries the moral weight of the film in those big green eyes, ably conveying the character arc of naïve, entitled young upstart to complicated, emotionally aware man. Also fantastic in small but pivotal roles are Julie Christie and Susan Sarandon, who each provide a master class in complex adult acting, both fiercely demonstrating the power of defiance and the grace of acceptance.

Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, and Chris Cooper all turn in small but solid performances as well, and a gorgeously Ivy-league Brit Marling continues to prove why she’s been an It Girl for a few years now. As for Redford himself, he does a great job with this physical role, but perhaps his best acting choice is to avoid the absurd and age-inappropriate tough guy antics that Harrison Ford keeps desperately clinging to. Unfortunately though, you can’t win ‘em all, and the talents of Terrence Howard and Anna Kendrick are wasted in an incongruous and implausible FBI side plot that just feels forced.

The Company you Keep is a fine film with some great insight into generational relations, true patriotism, and making ones way in the world. With the help of a standout Shia LeBeouf and solid performances across the board, Redford has fashioned a true coming of age tale, and shown that it doesn’t always have to involve only young people.