I’ve been saying for years that I want a television show that pits the COINTELPRO team against the Weather Underground. Now, it turns out, I’m getting something similar to that, and I have to deal with the fact that Shia LeBoeuf is involved with it. Robert Redford has just announced that he’s going to direct The Company You Keep, in which he’ll play a member of the Weather Underground who successfully concealed his identity for three decades who gets unmasked by an obnoxious young reporter played by LeBoeuf. Then, because apparently this is a world where nobody negotiates peaceful surrenders when they come out of the underground, Redford’s character goes on the run.
I’m a bit anxious about this, if only because Redford’s turned out a series of really leaden political stories. But I still think this is an important story to have in conversation. It’s obviously a good thing for the stability of American democracy that acting to overthrow the government is not an acceptable form of political behavior. But as the nonsense over Barack Obama’s contact with Bill Ayers shows, we also marginalize, particularly on the left, both people who want to overthrow the government, which is fine, and people who believe that the government is irretrievably broken, is doing disastrous things as a result, and feel some real agony about it. Which I think is less fine. There are obviously people for whom the government just doesn’t work, and ignoring that is both willfully oblivious and dangerous. One of the reasons that The Weather Underground is such a great documentary is that it manages to separate those two ideas, which are so often conflated, and show some real sympathy for, say, Mark Rudd’s clear emotional pain over what the U.S. government was doing in Vietnam, while also making incredibly clear, in the words of former Weathermen, how disastrous their approach was:
Fiction should be a good tool for that kind of parsing. I don’t know that The Company You Keep will be able to keep up that balance, and I think if it ends up being Weatherman apologia it’ll be both a terrible movie and really politically unhelpful. But I’ll read the novel it’s based on, and have hope that the adaptation will be good.