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THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

Script to Screen
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP can be seen as a cat and mouse game between two men -- journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) and fugitive Jim Grant (Robert Redford) -- both attempting to expose the truth and, in the process, redefine their lives. While the film, which is set in the present day, recalls the history and aftermath of the radical antiwar protest movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s (and in particular one of its most violent manifestations, The Weather Underground), it remains a work of fiction. Indeed it was the dramatic potential of the story itself, even more so than the meticulously researched underpinnings of Neil Gordon's 2003 novel, which first attracted Robert Redford to the project.

"I thought it was a good story and it gave you a chance to look inside of an event that is a piece of American history," says Redford of the film, his first as both actor and director since his 2007 drama, Lions for Lambs. "It truly gets inside how people were living their lives thirty years later... underground and with a false identity."

"For me it was a bit like Les Miserables, with the character Jean Valjean sentenced to nineteen years for a loaf of bread," Redford explains. "He escaped from prison, built a false identity, had a daughter, had a good life, but the pain of that time was always going to haunt him,. So how do these people deal with that? Do they change? Do they not change? That was the interesting story to be told. It wasn't so much about the antiwar movement itself, because that belongs to history."

Working with fellow producers Bill Holderman, who previously collaborated with Redford on Lions for Lambs and his most recent directorial effort, The Conspirator (2010), and Nicolas Chartier (The Hurt Locker), the project was developed over the course of four years. Adapted by Lem Dobbs, who scripted Haywire and The Limey for Steven Soderbergh, the screenplay centers on Grant's journey as he reconnects with the ghosts of his past -- many still living underground -- with the hope of ultimately exonerating himself from the murder charges he fled as a student linked to the radical fringe of the antiwar movement. All the while, Ben Shepard and the FBI pursue him, never more than a few steps behind his trail.

"This is about a group of people that were underground," Redford explains. "They were very close, bonded by the styles of their time, the passions of their time, and now they've grown older and they've taken different paths. Some resent that they did it. Others have remorse. Some believed in it at the time, but feel they have to spend the rest of their lives paying for it. Others feel it was a just cause at the time and still is a cause for today. So there's also all these multiple feelings and relationships -- how they all interacted fascinated me."

While Redford planned both the scenario and the production itself down to the finest detail, he also left considerable elements of the story open to the actors' own interpretations. Indeed, as an actor himself, he encouraged each individual's input.

"It was a skeletal script at the beginning that he was fleshing out through rehearsal," explains Shia LaBeouf (Transformers; Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) of the collaboration between the director and his cast.

"I think it was like 80 pages when I first received it -- and then he just started pumping life into it," says LaBeouf. "He allowed twenty pages for the script to evolve. He was still comfortable enough to pull the green-light-trigger on it... And he had the confidence in himself and his team to be able to move forward."

LaBeouf points to a scene shared with Brendan Gleeson (The Guard) by way of example, one in which his journalist prods Gleeson's retired police chief for information at an Ann Arbor, Michigan diner. "That scene didn't even really exist initially," explains LaBeouf. "Then you bring in somebody like Gleeson and you start riffing a bit... Redford allows it to breathe, but it's structured. It's not just ad-libbed -- it's very structured as to what needs to be explained and why."

"He acts as though he's completely in control, but he allows his film to be as free as something that has no control or boundaries at all, which allows life to exist... which allows real moments to happen and he maintains structure," says LaBeouf of Redford. "It's really amazing what he does and he does it so easily, it seems. That's the beauty of him."

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