Rendezvous with destiny

We watched "The 15:17 to Paris" this week, Clint Eastwood's movie about three American servicemen who foiled a 2015 terrorist attack on a French train.  I'm enjoying remembering watching it more than I did actually experiencing it.

Eastwood made a controversial decision to cast the three servicemen as themselves.  The acting, therefore, is a bit amateurish and flat, matched by the screenplay and directorial style.  "Lawrence of Arabia" or "A Man for All Seasons," it's not, but the effect is charming nevertheless.  The three young men are completely ordinary in an old-fashioned way, fellows of average ability and unremarkable upbringing.  The main focus is on the formative experiences of Spencer Stone, the guy who physically tackled the gun- and knife-wielding terrorist, from his mildly disappointing interactions with an unsympathetic education system, to his mother's disgust at the suggestion that he take drugs to keep him from looking out the window during boring classes, his impulsive decision to get into shape in order to qualify for a pararescue career in the military, and his sharp disappointment at failing to qualify for his first choice of service.

In another movie, all these experiences would show how society failed a young man and led him down a path of anomie and drug use, or spurred him to cure cancer in defiance of his small-minded critics.  Instead, Spencer fumes over his disappointments, but continues along the military paths that remain open to him, picking up tools and experiences here and there, showing mild sparks of courage and independence, and finally making the fateful decision to board the 15:17 train to Paris with his two childhood friends, now also in the service and also on leave.

The attack itself is not terribly dramatic, considering the potential for horrible injury and death.  It's over fairly quickly.  The heroes have a bit of luck.  The former would-be pararescuer calls on his physical strength, his jiu jitsu training, and a bit of first-aid education to stop the bad guy and help the injured train passenger.  All three take care of business briskly; the main character is awarded the Legion of Honor.

Mediocre critical reviews correctly noted the flat tone of the film.  What I enjoyed was the non-drama.  This was not the "They Jacked with the Wrong Guy" genre, one I particularly enjoy, in which the crisis happens to someone who is fatally underestimated by the villains, like Bruce Willis in "Die Hard." The Everyman hero in "The 15:17 to Paris" made something modest of his modest circumstances, which fitted him to step up and do the right thing in a moment of unexpected crisis.  He made few demands on life, concentrating instead on choosing something appropriate from the opportunities that randomly presented themselves to him and putting a reasonable effort into forming himself to meet them, without either whining or self-aggrandizing.  He apparently assumed that many of the things he tried to learn in the service had been dead ends or wasted effort, but they all came in handy when he disarmed the bad guy on the train and helped the injured guy until EMTs could arrive.

Spencer remained cheerful and open to both fun and duty while he cast about for a direction to his life.  If your neighborhood and your town were stocked with guys like him, maybe no one would be winning a Nobel Prize, but it would be a really good place to live.


E Hines said...

the crisis happens to someone who is fatally underestimated by the villains, like Bruce Willis in "Die Hard."

Or the vengeance-driven vigilante in Charles Bronson's Death Wish series.

"The 15:17 to Paris"--an ordinary group of guys doing an extra-ordinary thing ordinarily. I'll have to catch that one; thanks for the point-out.

Eric Hines

raven said...

Most of the guys I know are like that- just getting along, doing the best they can. I don't think any of them would consider themselves hero's, even the ones who fought at Khe Sanh and Hue, or Guadalcanal. They just did what they had to do, even though it sucked. One of my former employees father was a B17 pilot, he flew his missions in the hellish raids over the Reich- went home and became a school janitor. Just ordinary Americans. Take flight 93- it is one thing for trained soldiers to take part in a mission- for a few ordinary civilians to self organize in a matter of minutes under lethal threat and sacrifice themselves is the sort of thing that ought to give our enemies nightmares. This country is filled with people like that.

douglas said...

I made it a point to go see the movie in the theaters when it came out and dragged the family along. They admitted that it wasn't horrible, and that was good enough for me. It reminded me of a lot of older movies from the 40's or 50's that didn't have the flash or production quality of more modern movies, but presented a solid morality play that established what was virtuous, and the rewards of hard work. I was thinking that Eastwood just wanted to make this movie to re-establish those traditional values, and maybe also to show that Hollywood could make money even on something not super-polished or CGIed up if it simply stuck with traditional values.

Roy Lofquist said...

"but it would be a really good place to live."

Tom said...

Thanks for the review! I'll have to see it.