‘The 15:17 to Paris’: Sully’s very American story

I was very excited to learn that the next movie Clint Eastwood is working on is the film version of the book by Spencer Stone, Anthony Salder and Alek Skarlatos, called The 15:17 to Paris. The book like the movie chronicles the heroics of those three young men as they stopped a terrorist attack on a train to Paris and became worldwide heroes before even turning 25 years of age.  The heroes are all boyhood friends and the story will display how their lives intersected to that key point in history, and honestly, I think only Clint Eastwood could make the movie version of that book.  Even more stunning to me was that Clint has cast the guys to play themselves in the film which is really unprecedented for a feature presentation.  Clint Eastwood is such a good director, and the three guys so naturally charismatic that they all felt only those people could tell this very unique story and I’m excited about it.  If anyone wondered what Clint Eastwood’s answer to American Sniper might be, this is certainly it.  This film will play well in the core of America and will resonate around the world deeply concerned about terrorism.

But the news about that film reminded me that I had not yet seen Sully, Eastwood’s last movie about the Miracle on the Hudson where Chesley Sullenberger lost both engines in his commercial flight A320 aircraft over New York City and had to land somewhere.  The trouble was that in New York at only a few thousand feet altitude there was no place to land without coming down on someone’s home or building.  People were going to die one way or another unless Sully—the 40+ year airman working for US Airways could think of something fast—which he did.  He landed the big plane on the Hudson River, literally the only place he could have and it was his unusually quick thinking that saved the lives of all 155 passengers on board.

Well, I knew the story and had read the book so I felt I knew what was going to happen so I waited for the film to come to home entertainment systems and was a little upset that it wasn’t available to rent on either the PlayStation network or Amazon Prime. A film that had done as well as it had should have had a decent rent value.  It did make $238 million worldwide so it was inconvenient to me that it wasn’t easy to watch—because I wanted to see it over the weekend after I had heard the announcement of The 15:17 to Paris. So we went to Wal-Mart, bought the Blue-rey, and watched the film over some carry-out from Chili’s—and it was just a wonderful movie.

It is a shame that Clint Eastwood is now 87 years old because I want to watch movies directed by him for the next hundred years. The guy is just sooooo good at what he does.  It’s the kind of thing that only a person with 60 years in the business could pull off.  Eastwood does these big, gigantic true stories full of top-tier actors and production talent and he presents them as small piano music scores underplayed just right   From a production stand-point Sully is a great movie.  It was nicely paced, wonderfully photographed and compelling—even though we thought we already knew the story.  But the NTSB needed someone to blame for the insurance claim made by US Airways and that was where the drama really kicked in and had me very interested.  Again, I think only Clint Eastwood could have told this story in this way.

I love the competency of pilots. They are one of America’s greatest contributions to the word.  They are by their very nature solid people who do not panic easily—otherwise they wouldn’t be pilots.  Watching the bonus footage on the Blue-rey I learned that Harrison Ford is really the person who got the story rolling by introducing Sully’s book to the producer Frank Marshall.  From there it found its way to Eastwood and production started right after American Sniper was making a lot of money at the box office for Warner Bros.  But this was a movie about pilots from pilots and Harrison Ford may be known for his roles in Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but in reality, what he really is, is a pilot.  We might recall the time he landed his vintage aircraft on a golf course shortly after having engine trouble out of Santa Monica.  His landing was very similar to Sully’s only he hit harder.  Sully at least had water to soften the hit.  So here were a couple of pilots bringing to light a story about pilots and securing a director who knew better than to get in the way of the story.  What ends up on-screen is really a wonderful depiction of the employees of US Airlines—not just Chesley Sullenberger.

Eastwood also cast some of the real people to play in this film, like the air traffic controller and the ferry driver who first arrived on scene to rescue people from the stranded aircraft. What all these people did in a moment of crises was very admirable and Sully turned out to be one of the most inspirational films I have seen in a long time.  I had a feeling it would be good which is why I went out of my way to see it, but it turned out to be one of those extraordinary movies that you just don’t forget.  Eastwood not only captured the heroics of the Miracle on the Hudson, but he captured well the spirit of New York in a crisis.  In the end, even though the National Transportation Safety Board had been looking for someone to blame they came around to seeing things Sully’s way and the story really became an interesting commentary on the nature of individualism standing up to the necessities of institutional collectivism without really making anybody look bad.  The members of the NTSB were after all just doing their jobs in the context of it—but the situation was so extraordinarily individualistic that no part of that institutional framework had even considered such a possibility—even in hindsight during simulation runs.

History will remember these late in life film contributions of Clint Eastwood as being a very accurate commentator on American life. Taken as a three-part trilogy, first with American Sniper then with Sully culminating with The 15:17 to Paris Eastwood is telling of the same type of lost America that he did in his Dirty Harry movies—only now with the all-encompassing view of an 87-year-old man who has literally seen it all and done it all.  And he’s telling these true stories in a way that will resonate for centuries.  Clint Eastwood is proud of the role that America plays in the world and he finds that joy in these little stories without being cheesy, or over-the-top.  Now that I’ve seen Sully and will likely watch it several more times, I am really excited for The 15:17 to Paris. That film may turn out to be the best of all and it will come out in a time where Trump is reshaping the concept of Americanism to fit Eastwood’s vision—and that has a lot of power—and it will happen at a perfect time.

Rich Hoffman

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