‘I’ ON CULTURE
I am really sorry to write that The 15:17 to Paris, the new Clint Eastwood movie, is a bit of a disappointment. I am a longtime fan of the man and generally love his films, but this one just does not work as well as most of his recent movies. It is not a bad film, mind you. I doubt Eastwood is capable of that. It is far more an audience film than a critic’s one. But a film made to celebrate a moment of heroism has to be more than a quick showing of the act.
The title comes from the name of the train that left Amsterdam at that time (3:17 p.m., for those not used to the 24-hour clock). Three American soldiers — Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler — became heroes when, almost all alone, they stopped an armed terrorist on the train. Eastwood uses that as a “poster moment” for American courage and determination. That in itself is good. The problem is the time spent getting there.
Early on we see the kids growing up, one wanting to be an astronaut, one a paleontologist (especially if he could actually be with dinosaurs, à la Jurassic Park), and the third fascinated by the military. Eastwood even has fun using posters and souvenirs from his own movies.
Then we turn to the grown soldiers, each playing himself. It is a nice gimmick, reminiscent of Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back. It brings a nice sense of reality to the picture as the audience realizes we are seeing the actual people involved, rather than portrayals of them.
In one way, this is a real change from Eastwood’s work. In American Sniper, there was a whole lot of fiction involved in the interpretation. Here we see the three friends not only taking down the gunman (and let us not forget that they were helped by a Brit and a German), but the time leading up to the heroism. We see them backpacking through Europe.
While there, we see them have a chance to discuss war and heroism and a whole variety of themes Eastwood really likes. The friends move from Rome to Venice to Berlin and finally get to Amsterdam, where they get on the fateful train. The script has Stone, in particular, feeling a sense that something was going to happen. Of course, that might just be a well-intentioned screenwriter trying to build up to a climax.
Was there a form of predestination? Should Americans involve themselves in dealing with terrorism in Europe? There is a little bit in the film about the forces — economic, political and social — that have led to the crisis Europe now faces.
Eastwood never answers these questions. He clearly also does not subscribe to the “great man” theory of history. His heroes tend to be ordinary people, whether his movie is about hero pilot Sully or these three kids. But they come through in a pinch. Even his fictional characters of recent years, as in Gran Torino, are regular people who rise above themselves.
Ironically, Sadler constantly takes selfies of himself, often doing silly things. And when the action actually began, he was unable to do so. Eastwood, however, in essence takes over that role for him. He seems a bit silly and immature, but he comes through in the end, another of Eastwood’s favorite themes.
The cast is pretty good. The main players, the three soldiers, actually play themselves fairly well, something not as simple as it might seem. The other players are generally not as important, but they provide a few sparks that keep the continuity flowing.
The audience clearly enjoyed the film a lot more than the critics, and that is understandable. We have become used to slow build-ups to get anywhere, and quite often there is nothing really left at the end. Here we see young Americans, overly typical Americans, doing something heroic. There is a real takeaway, and many critics care very little about that or about American nationalism.
So, this becomes a really nice B-movie. It will not be nominated for awards, but it does provide a nice hour or so at the theater.