The Company You Keep

Author: Lem Dobbs
Genre: Thriller
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 8
Writer’s Potential: 7

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Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In order to protect his daughter, a former ’60s radical is forced to go underground and seek out an old partner in crime.

Synopsis:

It’s a typical morning for middle-aged SHARON SOLARZ. She goes to the gas station, buys a cup of coffee and a muffin, fills her tank… And is shocked when FBI agents surround her and place her under arrest. A montage of TV reporters explain than Sharon Solarz was arrested in upstate New York for her role in a Weather Underground bank robbery in Michigan that resulted in the murder of an off-duty police officer, which put the entire group on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for nearly 30 years. The next morning, attorney JIM GRANT (60s), wakes his daughter, IZZY (11), and takes her to school. At the Albany Times, editor RAY FULLER sends one of his annoyed reporters, BEN SHEPARD, to talk about Sharon’s arrest with a contact he has at the FBI. Ben assumes nobody will care about the story, but Fuller won’t take “no” for an answer.

At the school, Jim runs into BILLY CUSIMANO (late 50s), a burned-out hippie who tells Jim all about Sharon’s arrest. Billy tries to convince Jim to take her case, but Jim insists that it’s out of his league. When Billy tries to press him, Jim becomes hostile and recommends another attorney. Ben talks to FBI agent DIANA about Sharon. Diana denies Ben’s request for an interview with Sharon, leaving Ben without much. Reluctantly, Diana tells Ben that Sharon came to town to visit Billy Cusimano, an old friend who runs an organic grocery store. That afternoon, Jim picks up Izzy, who has spent the afternoon with neighbor MOLLY SACKLER (40s, attractive). Izzy asks Jim if Molly can go camping with them over the weekend. Jim is apprehensive. Ben interviews Billy, who accidentally suggests that Sharon was arrested because she wanted to turn herself in. When Ben tries to press him on this, Billy refers him to his attorney, Jim Grant. Almost immediately, he lets slip that he tried to get Jim to take Sharon’s case, but he refused. The story suddenly intrigues Ben.

The next morning, Jim packs a bag for Izzy. He carries it down to the car, where Izzy waits. She asks why they’ve packed so much, but Jim denies it’s any more gear than usual. They drive off into the mountains. Ben tries to contact Jim’s office. When he receives no answer, Ben goes to Jim’s home. Again, nobody answers, but Molly spots him. Ben introduces himself, and Molly denies any knowledge of where Jim is or when he’ll be home. Jim and Izzy hike along a trail, then pitch a tent and set up a campsite around it. Izzy digs through a bag Jim has packed for her — but it’s not the same bag we saw him pack earlier. The next day, while heading home, Jim calls Molly. She gives him a heads-up about Ben poking around, then tells him that the morning’s paper mentioned Jim’s connection to Billy and Billy’s connection to Sharon.

Irritated, Jim meets with Ben, who tries to grill Jim on a deeper connection to Sharon. Frustrated with Ben’s questions, Jim makes it his goal to offend Ben into leaving. When it doesn’t work, Jim walks away. Fuller tells Ben to drop the story because there is no story. Despite this, Ben continues to accumulate information on the Weather Underground and contact people related to Sharon Solarz. When he can’t dig up any relevant information, Ben ambushes Jim outside a courtroom to ask more questions, Jim tells Ben to fuck off. Jim, Molly, and Izzy have dinner with friends out in the country. Jim gets a sleeping Izzy in the car and starts driving. Eventually, she wakes up and asks where they’re going. Jim tells them it’s a little adventure, an early vacation.

Billy sees Ben at the courthouse and accuses him of running his lawyer off. Billy says he’s in trouble for aiding and abetting, and Jim hasn’t shown up. Ben’s baffled. He asks Billy why Jim wouldn’t represent Sharon. Billy doesn’t know, but Ben is obsessed with this question — it’s exactly the kind of case Jim would take, but he hands it over to someone else. Why? Way upstate, right across the river from Canada, Jim takes Izzy to the bus station. He buys an adult and child ticket to Toronto, then puts Izzy in the ladies’ room while he goes in the men’s room. He changes into a ridiculous “tourist” outfit — tropical shirt, white pants, sunglasses — and buys two adult tickets to Boston. He retrieves Izzy, who’s baffled by the new apparel. Meanwhile, Ben has found out that Molly called the police to report Jim and Izzy missing. He takes that to the FBI, along with information about a middle-aged man matching Jim’s description buying bus tickets to Toronto. Ben points out that Mimi Lurie, an accomplice in the bank robbery, was last seen in Canada. He knows there’s some kind of connection but doesn’t know what. Later, Ben meets with a private investigator who has dug up some interesting infromation on Jim Grant — he had no Social Security number or record of existence between 1942 (the date of his birth certificate) and 1978 (the year he filed for Social Security), except for a death certificate in 1944 for two-year-old James Marshall Grant, who died in a car crash. Ben returns to the FBI and tells them to check Jim Grant’s fingerprints against Nicholas Sloan, another fugitive from the robbery. When they ask why, Ben proudly announces that Jim Grant is Nick Sloan.

Jim and Izzy arrive at a New York City bus station. They have a fun day together, going to Central Park, FAO Schwartz, etc., before checking into a large, fancy hotel. Jim takes Izzy up to their room without realizing that TVs around the hotel are tuned to CNN, which is reporting Jim Grant’s true identity. He tucks Izzy into bed and reluctantly announces that her aunt and uncle will be by shortly to pick her up, and she’s going to have to stay with them for awhile. He leaves her with the bag he packed much earlier, then goes downstairs to the hotel lobby. Without ever stopping or making eye contact, Jim passes off the hotel key to his brother DANIEL, muttering the room and floor as Daniel mutters instructions on which exit to take. Jim waits in the hotel bar, catches sight of an FBI agent, CORNELIUS, who spots Jim and gives chase. Jim rushes down to the subway as the FBI agents pursue, allowing Daniel to make a clean break with Izzy. Jim disappears into the rush-hour crowd. Later, after Daniel has gotten Izzy back to his house, Jim gives Izzy a call and promises he’ll be back as soon as he takes care of some mysterious business. Izzy’s not happy.

Jim hands the cell phone he’s using back to its rightful owner, a chubby businessman in a fast-food restaurant. He rushes off and disappears. Although they didn’t apprehend him, Ben’s information was good, so Cornelius allows him to interview Sharon. She talks about their old philosophy. Ben steers the conversation in the direction of Nick Sloan. Sharon isn’t sure she wants to speculate on what he’s up to or why, but she tells him that, in an era of free love and revellion, Nick and Mimi Lurie were deeply in love and were willingly coupled up. Ben is certain Sharon is hinting at something deeper, but he doesn’t know what. Cornelius insists that Jim is on the run and will never be seen again. Ben isn’t so sure, because he left his daughter behind.

Outside Big Sur, California, MIMI LURIE runs bales of marijuana into the U.S. using a fancy yacht as cover. Jim, meanwhile, has dyed his hair and is on a train headed to an unknown destination. It reaches a larger train station, which has a police presence, and cops board the train. Struck with sudden paranoia, he rushes from compartment to compartment, looking for an available bathroom to hide in. He calms down when he realizes the cops boarded to arrest a random hoodlum, not Jim. Later, Jim gets off in an isolated, country stop, where he disappears into a thicket of trees. Jim wanders the streets of Milwaukee as Ben tries to piece together what, exactly Jim is doing — none of his actions make any sense if he’s guilty. MAC McLEOD, Mimi’s partner in crime, mentions Sharon surfacing willingly and subtly hints that maybe Mimi’s ready to do the same. Mimi adamantly refuses.

As Ben flies to Michigan to retrace the steps of the original crime, Jim heads to a Milwaukee lunch spot and startles DONAL, his old best friend. Jim believes Donal came to her after the robbery for help disappearing. He wants to know what information Donal gave her — anything that would lead Jim to Mimi. Ben, meanwhile, meets with ex-cop HENRY OSBORNE, who was the first one to catch up with one of the fugitives after the robbery. Osborne is evasive, doubly so when wife MARIANNE and daughter REBECCA (late 20s) arrive. Donal gives Jim a car and a name: Jed Lewis. Jim remembers him from the old days and is surprised Jed never told him about helping Mimi. At the end of his rope, Ben searches local archives, interviews bank employees and customers, surveys the bank itself… All roads lead back to Osborne. Ben flirts with daughter Rebecca and tries to grill Osborne about his connection to Mimi’s father. Osborne tells him the connection is well known — they were good friends who served together in Vietnam.

Mac tells Mimi it’s time to give up. Mimi disagrees — she feels it’s time to run again. Jim abandons Donal’s car in the middle of nowhere, then hops in a rental car. The cops find Donal’s car and it makes all the papers. Ben sees it as a message — but maybe not to reporters or cops. Ben slowly convinces Rebecca to open up to him, and he starts to fall for her. Jim drives to Chicago and meets with JED LEWIS, now a college professor. Jed doesn’t want to help him with anything until Jim mentions Mimi’s his only hope of getting his daughter back. Jed uses a pay phone to get in touch with a bunch of old radical friends, eventually leading him to Mac. Mac calls Mimi, who’s renting a boat in Michigan. After awhile, Mimi calls the pay phone and tells Jed she’ll meet Jim — and that Jim already knows where. Jed tells Jim never to contact him again. Mimi tells the boat renter that she plans to take the boat across the lake to Canada, but she won’t need it for a few days. She makes a deposit.

Jim drives to Michigan. Ben looks at some Osborne family photos when he discovers something interesting — a photo of Osborne and Mimi’s father fishing at a place called Linder Pond. Ben recognizes the name and seeks out the land owned by Linder Logging. The owner of a camping store in their woods tells him the company used to be Linder-Lurie. Jim and Mimi meet in a secluded cabin. Meanwhile, Ben returns to Osborne with a sudden realization: “Nick Sloan” and Mimi had nothing to do with the murder itself. They were the drivers; Sharon and Vince Dallesandro (the only one who was caught) were actually the ones in the bank. If Mimi comes forward, they can be each others’ alibis and get off scot-free. Jim and Mimi sleep together, and Jim attempts to persuade Mimi to turn herself in. She refuses on the basis of her political convictions. Jim subtly tells her to grow up — things have changed, they have different responsibilities, he doesn’t want to leave Izzy behind and repeat an old mistake. Mimi admits she saw “her” in Ann Arbor and that she’s beautiful.

Rebecca calls Ben, telling her that Osborne told her to come home immediately because he has some important news to give her, something that has to do with Ben coming to town and the fact that Rebecca was adopted. This is the first Ben has heard of the adoption, but he puts it together immediately. The Osbornes falsified Rebecca’s identity to allow for a legal adoption after Mimi and “Nick” dropped their baby off with them and disappeared. Back at the cabin, Mimi tells Jim she can’t do what he’s asking her. The next day, she leaves, headed off for Canada. Ben searches the woods for the cabin. He finds Jim, who’s preparing to leave and isn’t exactly thrilled to see Ben. Ben’s proud of himself for figuring everything out, but Jim’s unimpressed. His life is ruined — again — and much of the blame in Jim’s mind lies with Ben. He tells Ben to tell the Feds that Mimi is with him, then starts running.

The FBI arrives shortly thereafter and gives chase. Jim is caught by Cornelius, with Osborne assisting. Mimi’s on her boat, headed for Canada, when she suddenly changes course to head south. A news anchorwoman announces in voiceover that Mimi Lurie has given herself up to authorities. Jim is released from jail, a free man, and is finally able to reunite with Izzy.

Comments:

The Company You Keep is populated with vivid, interesting characters and crisp dialogue. However, the story grinds to a halt midway through and never regains the momentum of its suspenseful and surprising first act. It’s possible that the right cast and director can keep the energy and vitality up throughout, and it’s also possible that the dull patches will hit the cutting-room floor. Top-notch talent could change everything, but as written, the script merits a pass.

The story does a great job, in its first act, of establishing the characters and building suspense. The twist that Jim was actually one of the bank robbers is surprising, and his flight from justice is effectively suspenseful. It’s only when he arrives in Milwaukee that the story starts to take a nosedive. Jim’s search for Mimi lasts for much longer than it needs to , and Ben’s subplot gets too bogged down in restating the plot twists. It’s probably more realistic that Jim has to travel all over the Midwest running down old contacts, but it’s unengaging and devoid of suspense. This leads to a third act that tries to recapture the energy of the first but can’t quite get it back, even with additional surprising twists (e.g., Rebecca turning out to be the daughter of Jim and Mimi).

The characters, on the other hand, are well-written and nuanced. Even extraneous characters like Jed, Donal, and Mac are imbued with specific details that allow them to rise above ’60s radical clichés. Jim’s main conflict — trying to both protect his daughter from his past crimes and ensure his ability to raise her by proving his “innocence” — is a great way to make the character sympathetic and relatable, although the story loses focus on this during the tedious second act. Nonetheless, their reunion in the final scene is effective. Ben’s transformation from disinterest to obsession happens a little quickly, but it’s still refreshing to see him start out as apathetic instead of the stereotypical dogged reporter who wants to get at all costs. Mimi is the only weak link. She’s not poorly developed so much as shrill and self-absorbed. These would be fine character traits if anyone else took the time to point out her selfishness and hypocrisy. In a story with themes about aging and changing views about life and political convictions, it might have been more interesting if Jim had reunited with his long-lost love and found he really didn’t like her much.

This is a thriller with a great deal of promise that’s wasted on a bloated narrative. It requires either major story tightening or extremely skillful filmmaking and acting in order to elevate it to anything above a pass.

Posted by D. B. Bates on February 1, 2009 7:31 PM