Clint Eastwood attempts to illustrate the banality of heroism in his latest film, following on from his look at Sully, the pilot who landed a plane on the Hudson.
This is a film centred around the flurry of action aboard the titular train from Amsterdam to Paris in August 2015, when three American friends on a European tour took down an Arab terrorist and averted a massacre.
Eastwood opts to cast the actual people – Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler – for this, the three men playing themselves. I’m not sure why you’d do this other than to emphasis the everyday nature of heroic acts. The guys do OK considering they’re not actors, but this isn’t a documentary and they’re asked to get through a lot of dialogue that must rank among the dullest line readings ever committed to a major motion picture. Admittedly, it would take actors of the finest calibre to make this script zing at all but it’s actually excruciating to listen to the guys order their gelato in Venice, visit the Coliseum (‘dude, it’s so big”) and discuss their hangovers.
Their trips makes my morning seem positively action-packed. I know acting isn’t heroic, but it is a skill and what’s really odd is that Eastwood’s film spends a painful amount of time on the lad’s backstories, as kids in high school and through failed bouts of military training. It’s all building up to them being trained enough Americans to save the train from tragedy. So if you’re making a film about the incremental bits of learning that can make a man a hero, why shun actors who’ve trained so they can deliver dialogue and save a movie when it’s needed?
Eastwood and his regular cinematographer Tom Stern have been capturing a mundane realism more recently, with almost peremptory shots bordering on the lazy. Yet for all the downplaying of heroism, Eastwood still manages to soak the film in sentiment, with a score, with gloopy dialogue about destiny and God and a flashback structure that continually distract from the naturalism.
The message is unclear – heroism can happen to any of us if we respond to it, yet luck plays a huge part, although it would help if we knew ju-jitsu, how to stop an artery from bleeding out and how to dismantle a gun. In other words that Eastwood fans may understand: it takes a lifetime to go ahead and make your day.