VENICE (Reuters) - In “All the President’s Men”, Robert Redford famously played a reporter hunting clues that led to President Richard Nixon’s downfall. In “The Company You Keep”, the Oscar winner is the one who is hunted by a journalist, this time played by Shia LaBeouf.
Unlike the 1976 account of the Watergate scandal, The Company You Keep is a fictional thriller based on a 2003 novel by Neil Gordon, and follows a former leftwing American militant whose past comes back to haunt him.
Redford plays Jim Grant, a respectable lawyer and widower with a young daughter whose life is thrown into turmoil when his secret identity, as a member of The Weather Underground decades earlier, is revealed by a tenacious reporter.
LaBeouf, one of several up-and-coming stars to feature at this year’s Venice film festival where the movie has its world premiere on Thursday, appears as Ben Shepard, an ambitious writer working for a struggling local newspaper.
When an ex-member of The Weather Underground (Susan Sarandon) gives herself up, he uncovers a network of former militants who went into hiding in the 1970s and are still wanted by the FBI for a robbery and murder.
One of those is Grant, who is forced to leave his daughter behind to search out the one person who may be able to save him.
“Fundamentally, the film is pretty much about what a man will do for a child, what a man will do to have the love of his daughter preserved,” Redford told reporters after the movie was screened to the media ahead of its red carpet premiere.
Also starring Julie Christie, the two-hour movie explores the ideals of youth and whether they should be sacrificed for the sake of love and family.
It also touches upon anti-capitalist protests today, which recall rebellion against the Vietnam war that spilled into violence in the form of radical splinter cells.
The cat-and-mouse nature of Shepard’s pursuit of Grant and original news footage give it a similar to feel to All the President’s Men, and LaBeouf studied Redford’s performance in that movie to research his role.
But the young actor told reporters in Venice that there were major differences between challenges people faced in the 1960s and 1970s and those they must cope with today.
“Bob’s generation, they put a gun in your hand and told you to go and run through the jungle and shoot people,” the 26-year-old said. “You didn’t really have a choice.
“My generation is very different. We are not being asked to do the same things, we’re just broke. It’s easier to deal with being broke than being asked to kill.”
Despite those differences, Redford said his film should resonate with contemporary audiences who may be tempted to rise up and revolt against a political and financial system he said favored the very wealthy.
“Every generation has its moment of rebellion, its moment of discontent and its chance to do something about it,” said Redford, who last directed and starred in a movie in 2007 with “Lions for Lambs”.
“The conditions might be different, the times might be different, but it always comes and it always will,” added the 76-year-old double Oscar winner.
“It’s pretty obvious to anybody who’s got half of a brain paying attention in America that the super, super rich are doing just fine and the rest of the country is not ... I don’t know if you saw that in America, the Republican convention? It’s really about the one percent and it’s very clear.”
The Company You Keep has yet to get a North American release date, but the U.S. rights to the movie have been acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
It also features Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Nick Nolte and Terrence Howard.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato