For Adriano Goldman (“Jane Eyre,” “Sin Nombre”), it’s definitely about the company you keep. The Brazilian director of photography has shot Robert Redford as a former ’70s Weather Underground radical on the run in “The Company You Keep,” as well as Meryl Streep as the dysfunctional Midwestern
matriarch in the upcoming adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “August: Osage County” (November 8).
In both instances, Goldman has adopted what he calls “sophisticated realism” to get the most out of the political thriller, which is Redford’s best movie in years, and the eccentric black comedy that’s already attracting Oscar buzz as part of the Weinstein Company’s slate of contenders.
“Realism is something you can still make bigger than life as opposed to naturalism, which is taking whatever you get from a location and using it,” Goldman remarks. “I really like the challenge of making a place look real, like constructing a suburban newpaper office out of an empty room in ‘The Company You Keep’ or shooting in a big house in the countryside the production bought for ‘August: Osage County.'”
It’s the dark, hand-held, contrasty, doc quality that first brought Goldman acclaim with “Sin Nombre,” and then brought him to the attention of Redford after winning the cinematography award at Sundance in 2009. But initially Redford met with Goldman to shoot his Lincoln assassination movie, “The Conspirator.” Although it didn’t work out, Redford promised him his next movie and then made good on that promise.
It’s just as well since “The Company You Keep” is more in keeping with the look of the “Sin Nombre” road movie shot in Mexico. Sure, the cinematographer looked at “All the President’s Men” and “Three Days of the Condor,” incorporating the iconic gritty and grainy atmosphere from the iconic political conspiracy thrillers while avoiding any dated qualities. But more important was the flow. Aside from performance that’s what he learned most from Redford, who’s managed to be consumately bi-polar as actor/director.
“We wanted to follow the same rules they followed but with a more contemporary look,” Goldman adds. “The camera needs to follow the characters through the road trip. The film is very political but it’s also a road movie. The whole flow was important. A guy who travels from New York to Chicago and we shot that in Vancouver. It’s not hard to find amazing landscapes in Vancouver but they were not always good for this story. It was hard to resist beautiful. I wanted to put Redford in a different environment.”
“The Company You Keep” is like a bridge between the past and the present both literally and metaphorically. Redford plays an attorney in New York — a widower with a young daughter (newcomer Jackie Evancho, the singing sensation from “America’s Got Talent”). We glimpse a tender, paternal side to the movie star that’s quite refreshing. But it turns out he’s been hiding out for 40 years: a fugitive wanted for a murder he didn’t commit when he was a militant anti-war activist. But when he’s sniffed out by an ambitious young journalist (Shia LaBeouf), a combination of Woodward and Bernstein, Redford
flees for his life and is forced to confront the past one last time. Along the way, it becomes clear that he’s matured while some of his friends, particularly old flame Julie Christie, refuse to give up the fight.
Seeing Redford on the run brings back lots of stirring memories, of course. And “The Company You Keep” is an engaging throwback to Redford’s heyday: the kinds of neo-noirs we loved watching about ideology and disillusionment with great conversations about idealism and lost causes, the kinds of movies they don’t make anymore — what “Chinatown’s” Robert Towne used to call movies about “the futility of good intentions.”
For Goldman, it was the best possible experience: watching Redford comfortably at work as both actor and director, finding the right emotion for his performance while attending to his superb ensemble (which also includes Susan Sarandon, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Stanely Tucci, Sam Elliott, Anna Kendrick, and Nick Nolte). In fact, Redford spotted Evancho on YouTube and insisted on casting her when everyone else thought she was too inexperienced. But Goldman admits that Redford had the right instinct and brilliantly nurtured her.
As for LaBeouf, Goldman found it instructive observing Redford telling the young star to dial down his energy level in keeping with the overall vibe. No need to be frantic all the time. Again, it was a nice subtext about old school/new school differences.
At the same time, Redford was fully aware of the shoot around him. The trick was finding the right time to approach the busy filmmaker, so Goldman learned to use Redford’s inner circle as go-betweens and they would then huddle at night in his trailer to discuss the next day’s shoot. As far as shooting Redford, that was a challenge since the actor is 10 years older than his character. But rather than using makeup to make him look younger or fitting him with glasses or cutting his hair, they decided to once again trust his instincts and just let Redford be Redford.
“He was supposed to look more elegant when we start and tired and dirty throughout the road trip,” Goldman suggests.”I always tried to add contrast and density. I loved when we had cloudy days. It wasn’t supposed to be a nice trip. Rain would be welcome and the grayer the better.”
Now imagine going from Redford to Streep. Goldman was nervous at first, but “August: Osage County” director John Wells introduced them at a welcome party in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where they shot the movie. “She came up to me and told me how pleased she was that I was here,” Goldman recalls. “She told me how much she and her daughter adored ‘Jane Eyre’ and how I shot Mia [Wasikowska]. The funny thing is we almost worked together on ‘The Iron Lady.'”
Again, the timing worked out so much better with “August: Osage County.” They spent four months shooting the ensemble piece (co-starring Julia Roberts and featuring Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Chris Cooper, and Sam Shepard). It was like summer camp because they hung out together on weekends as well.
“It’s a very strange dark comedy — there’s no redemption for anyone — which I like a lot,” adds Goldman. “It was intense but pleasant. John Wells is very organized and disciplined being a writer and producer. Again, it was a realistic approach on my part.”
But how do you shoot Streep? It’s all about pace and whatever price needs to be paid to get it right, according to the cinematographer. The multi-Oscar winner was respectful of her director’s vision yet always coming up with character subtleties. The most demanding sequence was a dinner scene involving 11 characters at the mid-point. Wells knew he couldn’t get master shots of every character so he broke the 20-page scene down into three parts, shooting characters for the whole scene.
“You could just see the other 10 actors watching Meryl Streep and being amazed by her performance,” Goldman recounts. “I remember Chris Cooper saying, ‘I’d love to give an interview one day about my job as an actor and would probably just talk about these three days that we shot the dinner scene and just watching Meryl at work.'”
I’m sure most of us can’t wait to see Streep as Violet Weston and find out more about the bitchy “August: Osage County.”