robert redford (the company you keep)

Robert Redford in ‘The Company You Keep’

*Acclaimed actor, director and groundbreaker Robert Redford amassed quite a cast (Terrence Howard, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Britt Marling, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Susan Sarandan) for his current film, “The Company You Keep,” which he directs and stars in as a public interest lawyer (Jim Grant) and single father.

In this rousing thriller, Terrence Howard (Cornelius) is the senior FBI agent determined to bring Grant to justice. Grant is a former 70s anti-war radical fugitive wanted for murder. In New York this week to discuss his film, The Film Strip asked Redford if casting Howard as senior FBI agent, considering the times, was another progressive gesture on his part; and of course his answer was a modest one.

“Well I think Terrence is a wonderful actor and he was at a film at the festival called ‘Hustle and Flow’ and that’s when I first met him,” he says. “I thought he was really good so I wanted him as an actor in the role. I’m glad he did it and he did a good job.” Redford is the founder of the Sundance Film Festival where “Hustle & Flow” premiered in 2005.

terrence howard (the company you keep)

Terrence Howard in ‘The Company You Keep’

And what does Redford want those in the 21st century to take away from “The Company You Keep”?

“There are a number of things but to simplify it, I want people to think. Some films are made not necessarily like that, it’s like eating cotton candy and you have a wild ride and that’s all that you want. Other films are made and make you ask questions or think about what’s happen or start a dialogue with someone, that’s what I prefer whenever possible. That would be the first thing. The second thing has to do with a criticism that I have of my own country. I don’t think we’re very good at looking at history as a lesson to be learned so that we don’t repeat a negative historical experience. We’re not good at that. Looking back in time and saying this happened then and what can we learn from that, I just think it’s an American tradition to always be pushing forward and driving forward and doing, doing, doing. There’s no looking back and saying what can I learn from the mistakes I’ve made before.

“The hope is that you look back at this moment in time and when this happened I was of that age and I was of them in spirit but because I was starting a career in the New York theater as an actor and I was starting to have a family, I was obligated to that task so I wasn’t a part of it but I was certainly empathetic to what they were doing. I thought it was the wrong war and I thought it was going cost unnecessary lives. It was also a war designed by people who had never gone to war and it had a lot to do with the tragic history of the United States and the mistakes that they made that they never seemed to learn by. That was my personal criticism of my country and it’s history. I would hope that you look back at this time and it’s not about what happened then, it’s about 30 years later and those people who we’re filming and there’s a wonderful poem by Yates…and he says, ‘The best do lack conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity’ and I felt that that was a nice thing for me to play with. As people who are filled with passionate intensity and grow older and look back, they are trapped by their past because they are going to stay free from the law and go underground with a false name but how long can you live with this identity? That’s what interested me, to tell that story, not then but now.”

In “All The President’s Men,” Redford portrayed a legendary journalist with unmatched skills in investigative reporting. LeBeouf (Ben Shepard) is the impetuous reporter in “The Company You Keep” who exposes Grant’s identity. With a penchant for journalism in films, Redford offered some thoughts on today’s media.

“It’s kind of tricky,” he opined. “It’s a tricky business when an artist starts messing around with journalism. It’s tricky because I don’t know if the media is comfortable being criticized by people not in their own world, I don’t know, but that’s sort of a hunch. You have to be careful. Because I have such a keen interest in the media and think that it plays such an important role in our society, I am concerned if it’s ever threatened in any way and if it is threatened I’d like to know how and what and maybe that’s a story. I think that the Internet has so aggressively altered the landscape of journalism and you have so much information, sometimes it’s too much information, so how do you find the truth? Where does a public citizen find the truth when so much is coming at them? You have the far right and the far left hammering stuff and lying on both ends so the public gets fed up and turns away so I’m really curious as to what the state of journalism is right now.

“In terms of this film, I really saw the Shia’s character—and I guess to me there was a hint of a story that I’ve always loved (‘Phantom of the Opera’ because I always wanted to play that part and then ‘Les Miserables’)—to have the similarities of Inspector Javert and I am Jean Valjean in a sense. I go to prison for something that I’ve done that’s wrong, I escape, I take on a new identity to escape prison time, I live a clean life, I have a daughter, my daughter means everything to me, I had to give up another daughter before she meant too much for me to give up, that was painful and yet there’s someone at my tail who might expose me and make it impossible for me to have the true love of my daughter. That was the complexity that sparked me to make this film.”

Marie Moore is a syndicated veteran entertainment journalist who reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]