Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"THE COMPANY YOU KEEP"
The good news is that Robert Redford is not only directing again, but also starring in a compelling thriller about the dilemma faced by former members of the Weather Underground, a radical anti-Vietnam war group that plotted to blow up buildings in multiple U.S. cities in the early 1970s.
When Vermont housewife Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) crosses into New York state, she's arrested by FBI agents, led by Terrence Howard. She's been wanted for 30 years for her role in a botched Michigan bank robbery, during which a security guard was killed.
Reprimanded by his editor (Stanley Tucci) for not breaking the local story, enterprising Albany Sun Times reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) takes advantage of his access to an FBI agent (Anna Kendrick) to zero in on civil-rights lawyer Jim Grant (Redford), who declines to take Solarz' case.
A widower raising his 11-year-old daughter Isabel (Jacqueline Evancho), Grant has also been in hiding; he's really Nick Sloan, believed to be another of the Michigan bank robbers. The only way Nick can clear his name is to contact his former compatriots (Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins) and track down his ex-lover, still-idealistic Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie).
Meanwhile, brash Ben is delving into the back story, not only interviewing Sharon Solarz, but also the Michigan investigating officer, Harry Osborne (Brendan Gleeson), whose beautiful blonde law-student daughter (Brit Marling) catches his attention.
Adapted by veteran screenwriter Len Dobbs ("Haywire," "The Limey") from Neil Gordon's novel and astutely directed by Redford, it's a thoughtful crisis-of-conscience tale about facing the consequences of one's actions, as America is engaged in equally immoral tragedies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bad news is the chronology isn't credible. Robert Redford is 76 -- and looks it. Julie Christie is 72. Susan Sarandon is 67. So, 30 years ago, they would have been 46, 42 and 37, respectively -- too old to have been naïve student-activists.
Nevertheless, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Company You Keep" is a conspiratorial 7 with a superb cast.
Without doubt, Danny Boyle is one of the most exciting and versatile contemporary filmmakers. A consummate storyteller, he won an Oscar for directing "Slumdog Millionaire" and was previously nominated for "127 Hours."
Boyle's other pictures include "Shallow Grave," "Trainspotting," "Millions," "The Beach" and "28 Days Later" -- and he orchestrated the opening ceremonies of last summer's Olympics in London in which James Bond (Daniel Craig) famously escorted Queen Elizabeth II.
Now Boyle has focused on an ingenious art heist in London. It begins with Simon (James McAvoy), a fine art auctioneer at Delancy's, who details the elaborate precautions that galleries practice to protect their multi-million-dollar paintings. But just as "Witches in the Air" by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya is on the block, thieves brazenly storm the gallery. Grabbing the Goya masterpiece and dashing for safety, Simon is clobbered on the skull by Franck (Vincent Cassel), one of the thieves. Waking up, he's lost all memory not only of what happened but also of where he put the painting. That's frustrating to the thieves who have been torturing him to tell them.
Exasperated, Franck decides to allow Simon to try hypnosis as a cure for his amnesia. That leads him to a hypnotherapist, Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), on the pretext that he's lost his car keys. Realizing he's not telling her the truth, she offers to help him recover his memory. Then things get really complicated. What is perception? What is reality? And how does the psyche know the difference?
Psychological thrills abound as the provocative plot twists, turns and flashes backwards, encompassing glimpses of entirely bare Dawson as a classic Renaissance nude. Working with screenwriter John Hodge (who adroitly adapted Joe Ahearne's 2001 British TV movie) and stylish cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, Boyle propels the dazzling hyperactivity with an eerie score by Underworld's Rick Smith.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Trance" is a trippy, intriguing, enigmatic 8, a surreal, cleverly ambiguous brain-teaser that will keep you thinking long after the lights go up.
"A PLACE BEYOND THE PINES"
After spending nearly 12 years developing "Blue Valentine" (2010), writer/director Derek Cianfrance was able to finance this sprawling family drama, which he's been working on for almost two decades.
Set in Schenectady in upstate New York, this epic, multi-generational triptych unfolds over 16 years in three distinct acts. Act One introduces Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle daredevil/drifter in a traveling carnival, who discovers that he is the father of a baby boy, Jason, from a one-night fling with Romina (Eva Mendes) the year before.
Determined to take care of them, despite Romina's continuous rejections, he partners with a mechanic friend Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to rob banks -- which ends in a disastrous encounter with an ambitious rookie cop, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), whose father (Harris Yulin) is a state Superior Court judge. Act Two traces conflicted hero/cop Cross' political rise, despite menacing, corrupt detective Deluca (Ray Liotta) and an irritable DA (Bruce Greenwood), and his futile attempt to balance his professional life with his marriage to Jennifer (Rose Byrne); significantly, their son, AJ, is the same age as Jason.
Sharing writing credit with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, Cianfrance maintains a serious tone and earthy naturalism, using minimalist dialogue that's totally lacking in subtlety or irony. But Cianfrance's somber craftsmanship, particularly his use of mounting tension, is admirable, although the rambling, linear pace is plodding and choppily melodramatic.
In addition to bleaching his hair and covering himself with tattoos, hunky Gosling put on about 40 pounds of pumped-up muscle for the mystique of the role. He's convincing, as are Cooper, Eva Mendes and Dane DeHaan. FYI: the poetic title is derived from the Iroquois Nation meaning of Schenectady.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "A Place Beyond the Pines" is a suspenseful, if self-indulgent 6 -- a somber identity story about fathers and sins.