Please, Not Another “American Sniper”: Eastwood To Celebrate The All American Hero Again With “The 15:17 To Paris”
Clint Eastwood has found his next real life American hero story as he’s signed up to direct The 15:17 to Paris, a film based on the book The 15:17 To Paris: The True Story Of A Terrorist, A Train, And Three American Heroes which details the bravery of three friends who overpower and subdue a ISIS-inspired terror attacker on a Paris-bound train.
Clint Eastwood hasn’t shied away from celebrating true life American heroes, his most recent film Sully is testament to that. The film, about US Airways pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger saving the lives of 155 passengers after the aircraft he is flying loses power and has to be landed in the Hudson River, is another chance for Eastwood, hot on the heels of his similarly patriotic and, in this regard, jingoistic presentation of the American hero, to savour real life acts of perceived courage and selflessness.
Now, there are genuine real life “heroes” – the firefighters who tried desperately to save lives while the World Trade Center towers were burning or the doctors and nurses in everyday life who painstakingly try to help people. But it’s the perception of the “hero” that’s in question when it comes to Eastwood, his right-wing conservative thinking colouring his storytelling approach with an overt allegiance to the “flag”.
That’s why I’m guarded in my reaction to news of his latest venture The 15:17 To Paris. Eastwood will direct a film based on the book The 15:17 To Paris: The True Story Of A Terrorist, A Train, And Three American Heroes by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos (an Oregon National Guard), and Spencer Stone (a member of the US Air Force). The book is based on the three writers’ experience on the Paris-bound train #9364 in which a suspected ISIS sympathiser threatened to carry out a bloody terror attack armed with an AK-47, a pistol and a box cutter. Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone recognised the threat, challenged and overpowered him, averting a potential catastrophic tragedy.
Their selfless actions were the acts of men who could be termed “real life heroes”. Their courage probably did save lives, the number of which I dare not contemplate. But there were others involved in helping them, notably an off-duty French train conductor and 62-year-old British businessman Chris Norman. Indeed, before the three Americans successfully subdued the man, two French travellers had already tried to tackle the assailant. One of them – 51-year-old Mark Moogalian – was shot through the neck after wrestling with the attacker.
It will be interesting to see how Eastwood stages the event and to what extent the situation features the efforts of those non-Americans. It will also be interesting to see how the attacker is portrayed and whether or not he becomes a villainous one-dimensional stereotype characterised solely by a hatred for the West and a thirst for carnage. My gut feeling is that it’ll be hooray America from the get-go.
I’m reminded of John Horgan’s description of Eastwood’s American Sniper, saying that it “glorifies American soldiers and demonizes Iraqis with cartoonish simple-mindedness.”
He goes on to discuss how war has become a symptom of our lives, musing upon possible reasons why we militarise and ultimate kill each other. He says, “If the urge to wage war were embedded deep in our genes, we wouldn’t need films like American Sniper to persuade ourselves that our wars are just. If we Americans can learn to resist this kind of loathsome pro-war propaganda — whether coming from filmmakers, media or politicians — world peace might be possible.”
In fact, Seth Rogen, upon the release of American Sniper, likened the film to the mock Nazi propaganda movie featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
Eastwood has steered a course in later life that is defining his movies. They won’t do any harm to his legacy but they might frame your interpretation of it. I think we all know where Eastwood is going with The 15:17 To Paris and I’m not sure I really like it.