Rightwing Film Geek

Clint trolls Hollywood

1517 lead
THE 15:17 TO PARIS (Clint Eastwood, USA, 2018, 6)

This is the cinematic equivalent of Eastwood’s speech “to a chair” at the 2012 Republican National Convention: bizarre in concept, off-putting and “off” in some ways, but fascinating in retrospect and/or if you get on its wavelength.

To let y’all in on a little secret that had something to do with how I reacted to THE 15:17 TO PARIS: I went into the film not-knowing that Eastwood had cast the actual three men who foiled a jihad attack on the Amsterdam-to-Paris train to play themselves (as adults) in this biopic/dramatization. So when I was sitting through the credits and under “Starring” was the actual names of the three heroes, I was stunned. The mind drifted to Audie Murphy, and I wish I had the familiarity with his career, beyond its existence and the fact that his first role was his own biopic TO HELL AND BACK, needed to make an intelligent or in-depth comparison. But the all-surface performances of these three men (it can easily be taken for simply bad acting) now gained a layer of meaning, plus a kind of “necessity” justification.

The chairworthy concept for Eastwood is to troll liberal Hollywood with the Most Problematic Movie Ever, within the limits of the old-fashioned Code-era film (i.e., no sex or gratuitous violence). The sheer volume of Problematics makes it obvious Clint is doing this deliberately, as he is piling it on beyond the possibility of inadvertence. This is a movie where conservative values (I’m dealing in very broad strokes obviously; assume I know this) are assumed as natural in a way that even I can’t see them that way, as much as I believe them.

We get a scene in Rome in which the boys are invited to A Night of Decadence (something close to that; I can’t be certain and I didn’t write it down as I thought I had) and Eastwood’s camera hugs the thigh and skirtline of the actress inviting the men. Not only is this Problematic but then, in a shocking elision for 2018, we never actually SEE the presumed orgy despite its later being made explicit they went. Meanwhile, religion and the military and masculinity and nationalism are treated entirely without irony or contempt or with anything somehow darkening. The very first scene is about a teacher wanting to medicate two boys, taking what an earlier era saw as normal male rambunctiousness or wanderlust as something to destroy, by science if necessary. The scene ends with the line “my God is greater than your statistics” and this is presented as #SickBurn. The line sounds practiced, and in a way it is, but entirely consistent with actual talk in an era that is entirely mediated, even in Christian circles (hence, among other things, all the name drops of technology). The boys play war games using fake guns, and it’s portrayed as exhilarating and making them want the real thing, wall posters and all. One of the boys even shows another a real gun, and … nothing bad happens (as is almost always the case, BTW). Even the Afghanistan war is presented as boredom-fueled Skype sessions and a semi-humorous lost-rucksack episode, with nobody getting blown up or shot at or going loco.

1517 selfie

Anthony Sadler, Alex Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone all play themselves in pure bro terms, avatars of Toxic Masculinity and without self-doubt. Keith Phipps at Uproxx (the first review I read) complained that the latter part of the film spends too much time as a vacation movie, showing them cavort and selfie-stick their way around Europe without conflict. He’s not exactly wrong and I wouldn’t dispute that there’s more of it than is strictly dramatically necessary. But the point of all this is to establish them as Ugly Americans, tourists exuding privilege as it drips off their fingers without a thought. You kinda have to “overdo” that before it becomes annoying.

All this to say that typical “Hollywood” artist or viewer of prestige movies (or dare I say, critic) should be not-liking Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone. Until … we get to the scene where we need their heroism.

kipling_RudyardIt’s common (not universal) in militaries to hold civilian values in contempt as parasitic ingratitude, or, as Kipling put it to Orwell’s later cheer, “makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep.” But the martial virtues, on which heroism depends, don’t come in a vacuum. Like all virtues, they are habits and have to be inculcated and prepared for. My then-confessor once said to me “you give up meat on Friday not because meat is bad or it’s a great sacrifice (neither is true) but because denying your bodily passions must first be done often and in easy things so you might do it occasionally in harder things.”

To bring this back to THE 15:17 TO PARIS, this explains the odd structure of the film. There are a couple of flash-forwards accompanying a highly teleologized story of these men’s boyhoods and teen years and early adulthood, everything leading up to the few minutes on that Paris train, which, by itself, doesn’t provide nearly enough material for a feature film. But the scene of not hiding under the desk, the jujitsu training, the prayers, the war games, the uncomplicated characterization, the desire to be “called” to heroism … it’s all about how “the Great War was won on the fields of Eton” and all that. The fact the three men are playing themselves … doesn’t critically-immunize it, exactly, but it definitely establishes that this image I’m describing is how they see/saw themselves. THE 15:17 TO PARIS is an unapologetic presentation (not even really a “defense”; there’s not really an antagonist) of “outdated” values. No doubt about it.

But while the concept and architecture and positioning of THE 15:17 TO PARIS is a 9, especially when made in 2018 by a legendary auteur some of whose recent work gets leftist praise as contrary to his screen image … the film outside the concept and architecture and positioning is just a 5. Since I mostly care about the experience of what’s on the screen … I did the math.

1517 jihadiThere are mistakes even within Eastwood’s schema. The parade at the end is just excessive — we’ve already seen the French president (France! The home of freedom fries, people!!) pay homage to these unproblematized all-American dudebros wearing polo shirts to a medal ceremony filled with military pomp; you don’t need more. The professional actors surrounding the three protagonists (I’m setting aside the three who portray them as boys, who are quite good) are actually giving lesser performances. And the score is insistent and overdone. I’m fine with portraying the ISIS jihadi as other and showing him praying and doing an ablution before starting on bis rampage; I didn’t need or want the ominous minor-key thumping.

1517 military

But at the end of the day, teleological storytelling, however it can be justified in retrospect, still comes across as obvious. Simple characterization, however it can be justified in retrospect, still comes across as obvious. Self-regarding acting, however it can be justified in retrospect, still comes across as obvious. Trolling liberal audiences and critics, however it can be justified as righteous and good, still comes across as … not enough. I’m genuinely 50-50 torn between cackling gleefully at liberal critics having to sit through THE 15:17 TO PARIS as “what I have to sit through EVERY FUCKING TIME” and “NOW do you get it?” sympathy for liberal critics having to sit through THE 15:17 TO PARIS as “what I have to sit through EVERY FUCKING TIME”

The problem is that drama relies on conflict, on uncertainty, on people making mistakes (by some or other light), on values clashing. The first three of those things have all been Old Hat since Aristotle, and I’m confident he’d at least acknowledge the fourth if he were among us today. In Aristotle’s sense, there is very little drama in THE 15:17 TO PARIS.

Its being based on a real-life story we all know inherently works against any tension or suspense, but Eastwood’s last two films, SULLY and AMERICAN SNIPER, had that same “problem” … and he found other drama — in the post-flight hearings and in Kyle as a man dealing with his “heroism.” I genuinely believe the latter film among the most important “bridge-building” films between Red and Blue America, but only because both colors can approach the film on something like their own terms. THE 15:17 TO PARIS doesn’t do that, which is why it’s a lesser film than SNIPER.

But this is the problem with all trolling and with all message movies, 90 percent of which hawk left-wing values (at this point, the 10 percent is at hand). A Message is inimical to conflict if a film-maker is convinced his message is natural, whether his message is red-state martial virtue, Black Lives Matter or Me Too. I once said not-facetiously on a private film-buff board that I’m not per-se interested in movies against racism (whatever “racism” might mean) unless and until a movie for racism is thinkable. This is, ultimately, why it matters that the entertainment industry has become a bubblized virtue-signaling monoculture. It limits the movies that get made. It also “justifies” trolling back as a response — and not just in the field of movies.

February 11, 2018 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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