by Daphna Whitmore
Robert Redford directs and acts in the movie, which is based on a novel by Neil Gordon about the sixties’ militant left group the Weather Underground. The Weather Underground grew out of anti-Vietnam War protests and were a faction of Students for a Democratic Society, a mass movement with 100,000 members.
Redford made the movie on a $1 million budget. He is a genuine left-liberal and his pulling power is clear with politically-conscious stars like Julie Christie and Susan Sarandon and plenty more big names – Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Brendan Gleeson – working for next to nothing.
Sarandon plays a fictional Sharon Solarz, formerly a member of the Weather Underground, who has been living in suburbia for thirty years under an assumed identity. Her arrest sets the stage for an FBI manhunt for others in her group. Will she disavow her revolutionary past? Not likely. Instead she explains her motivation to the ignorant young journalist played by Shia LaBeouf.
She tells him people were drawn into a movement against the murderous system and government waging genocide in Vietnam. There was the My Lai massacre, the killing of students at Kent State and Jackson State, the use of the draft; you got a number and waited to be sent overseas to fight a dirty war. The Weathermen decided civil disobedience and peaceful protests were not getting them anywhere, and they wanted to “bring the war home”. There was a revolution going on: “Japan, France, Angola — and I wanted to be part of it. . . If we sat at home while our country committed genocide — that was violence.” Sarandon’s character challenges the reporter about what he is willing to take a risk for. For her part yes, she would do it again, but “smarter, better, different. We made mistakes, butwe were right,” she says.
The Weather Underground are depicted as people with friends and relatives, who have lost none of their conviction, but time has moved on and the movement is no more.
Redford’s character later tells the snoopy self-serving journalist: “Thirty years ago a bright young man like you would be part of the movement”.
There are many thoughtful observations made, including sharp criticism of shallow, sensational fact-deprived journalism. Stylistically there are things to grumble about; at 76 Redford playing a father in his 60s, looks more like a grandfather than a dad to the lovely 11 year old daughter. She is played by singer Jackie Evancho in her acting debut. Actually, the cast is so full of stars they tend to outshine the characters.
There is intrigue in the story, enough to class it as a thriller, but its pace is slower and the story’s twists not tight enough to create the sort of suspense that audiences are use to. Disappointingly, there is an ending that is as tidy as any Hollywood flick.
The film has been a fizzer at the box office in the US. The Boston marathon bombings hurt the film and its sympathetic portrayal of the hardline leftists has enraged patriotic meatheads.
In an interesting interview Redford and some of the cast talk a bit about the politics in the movie: http://collider.com/robert-redford-brit-marling-thecompany-you-keep-interview/
There’s much about the Weather Underground the film doesn’t and couldn’t do justice to. Left out is a discussion about their experiments with drugs, group sex, their cringing white guilt, and their relative isolation from the mass movement.
It does however show that none of them betrayed anyone, and most of them remain unapologetic about what they were fighting against and for, while regretting some of the things they did.
This is a film with integrity, about integrity.