Here’s a surprise: an effete writer for the New Yorker is uncomfortable with patriotism, guns and the kind of men who join the military. So as you might imagine, Anthony Lane isn’t wild about Clint Eastwood’s new movie.
Lane claims that The 15:17 to Paris is one of the weirder films of the year, calling it a “thrusting reactionary fable that ends up bumping into the avant-garde.” The movie centers around the true story of three unlikely heroes (played by themselves) who, while on a European vacation, stop a terrorist from murdering a train full of people.
Lane recalls that the incident portrayed in the movie was “quite a story at the time, and the news coverage was excitable and widespread.” Unarmed American servicemen stop a deadly terrorist attack, ho-hum, don’t be so excitable. Lane says Eastwood making a “ninety-four-minute movie out of an incident that lasted a matter of minutes” is where many of the film’s problems lie.”
And that’s probably true, because Eastwood filled it in with flashbacks to the protagonists’ formative years and covers their attitudes and the events leading up to the attack. Unfortunately, he filled it with American themes. Lane chides the movie for being a “hundred per cent endorsement of a cultural rescue: natural-born warriors, made in America, take down the Muslim fanatic and, not for the first time, save those lazy-ass Europeans from a fate they can’t themselves defeat.”
Of course enthusiastic stories of American heroism are too hamfisted for a good progressive like Lane. A flashback scene has the young friends reveling in one’s cache of toy guns, and talking about hunting and playing war. “As I watched the scene, I thought, You could cut it out of this movie and paste it, unchanged, into another one, about a nice suburban kid who grows up and carries out a mass shooting.” Yes, that’s how things must look from Manhattan.
"Eastwood, however, plays things straight, without a shimmer of unease, preferring to frame Spencer’s obsessive hoarding of weapons as a healthy pastime and also, naturally, as a preparation for the hour—or the seconds—of crisis that will define his adult life.” Yeah, it’s what used to be called being a boy, preparing to become what used to be called a man. Lane clearly doesn’t understand that but he knows some people do.
“To be fair, such an argument will make perfect sense not just to members of the N.R.A. but to countless families in Middle America, especially those who are sending their sons and daughters into the military.” And thank God it does. Word has it New Yorker writers aren’t too handy in a scrap.
As bone-chilling as young American boys playing war with their “arsenal of toy guns” is Anthony Lane’s more serious problem with 15:17 to Paris is its neglect of the main antagonist. He laments that, with most of the screen time dedicated to portrayal of the boys’ youth, their families’ belief in God, and their service in the military, hardly any perspective is given to the terrorist’s backstory. He asks:
Above all, what of Ayoub El Khazzani, the Moroccan at the heart of these events, who was already on the radar of the authorities in both Spain and France? Was this not an ideal opportunity to trace the paths—whether of grievance, paranoia, faith, or wrath—that lead a young man to dreams of slaughter? Was he not, in his way, catapulted towards his purpose no less firmly than Stone and his companions were, and with an equally fervent belief that he was obeying the decrees of his God?
So,the reviewer doesn’t approve of the heroes (toxic masculinity and all that), whom he dismisses as about equal to a mass shooter, but he’s all a-tingle to learn what’s up with the only guy who got on the train with a gun and evil intentions.