“Wait—you’re telling me that LaBeouf means beef?”

The Company You Keep is the kind of square, serious, by-the-book political drama that gets over-praised these days simply because it doesn't over-insult the intelligence of its audience. But that's not the movie's fault: Director/star Robert Redford is just telling a story here, and he doesn't care about being ostentatious, just letting the plot unspool itself the way it wants. Mostly, he succeeds.

Redford stars as Nick Sloan, a former member of the Weather Underground and wanted fugitive (his Underground cell was involved in the murder of a bank security guard) who's living a comfortable life in Albany as a lawyer under an alias. When the FBI starts arresting other members of his cell—and when a nosy young reporter (Shia LaBeouf, unfortunately) starts poking around his past—Sloan goes on the lam.

The Company You Keep is buoyed by a series of great extended cameo appearances by a who's who of older actors portraying Sloan's Underground associates—Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins. (Susan Sarandon, especially, is so riveting as an unrepentant domestic terrorist that you'll mourn the fact that she's done after the first 20 minutes of the movie.) Mercifully, there are no excruciating baby- boomer-glorifying lectures about how the Summer of Love changed everything.

It's a long movie, but not punishingly so. And if it's occasionally too on-the-nose or obvious, that feels like a forgivable offense, because the film's earnestness is so winning. Late in The Company You Keep, one of Sloan's compatriots bitches about kids these days with their cell phones and complains, "Now we're just a story told to children." Redford looks glum for a second, staring off somewhere with his remarkably craggy face, and responds, thoughtfully, "I'm glad someone's still telling it." In the end, so are we. recommended