The 15:17 to Paris


Anthony Sadler muses aboard the 15:17 to Paris.

(2018) True Life Drama (Warner Brothers) Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, P.J. Byrne, William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar, Paul-Mikel Williams, Thomas Lennon, Jaleel White, Robert Praigo, Tony Hale, Lillian Solange, Ray Corasani, Irene White, Mark Moogalian, Steve Coulter, Seth Meriwether, Heidi Sulzman. Directed by Clint Eastwood

 

True heroism is a pretty rare thing. You never know where it might occur; in a school, or a nightclub – or on a train from Amsterdam to Paris.

But on a hot August day in 2015, the latter is precisely where it occurred. When a terrorist pulled out an automatic rifle and threatened to massacre the travelers aboard the high-speed rail. Director Clint Eastwood, one of the best in Hollywood history, is tackling the events of that day and the three Americans who were involved – boyhood friends from Sacramento, two of whom were in the military. You would think that this would be in Eastwood’s wheelhouse but strangely this is one of his most disappointing movies in decades.

There are a lot of reasons that this movie doesn’t work as well as it might but the biggest is the script of Dorothy Blyskal, based on the book by the three Americans involved. She chooses an odd narrative structure, starting with the beginning of the attack on the train but then going into a series of flashbacks into their boyhood and development into the young men they would become. It makes a bit of a mess of the story and there is a lot of necessary business – too much time sightseeing – that slows down a film that at just over 90 minutes should be zipping by.

Another part of the problem is Eastwood’s decision to cast the heroes as themselves. These young men have a lot of skills but acting is not among them. I’m not blaming them – you get the distinct feeling that these men are experiencing far more nerves in front of the camera than they did facing an armed terrorist – but I don’t think they should have been put into the position that they were. The child actors who play them as youths may be even worse.

The actual terrorist attack is done extremely well and is the highlight of the film. Unfortunately, it takes too long to get there and by the time you do you may have been checking your watch. Now, there are some conservatives who will think that I don’t like the movie because the heroes are Christians who are into guns and the military. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I appreciate that they are a different brand of hero than we normally get on the silver screen and yes, they are normal Americans – that’s what makes their heroism more exemplary, even though they do have military training. The reason I don’t like the movie is because most of the time it’s boring and that has nothing to do with my political views but on my cinematic experience. The fact that mass audiences haven’t embraced the film is a testament to that.

REASONS TO GO: The story is truly inspiring.
REASONS TO STAY: The acting is stiff and there are too many flashbacks – this might have worked better as a documentary rather than as a narrative feature.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, profanity, some bloody images, sexually suggestive material and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first person to tackle the terrorist was actually a Frenchman but he turned down the Legion of Honor and asked to remain anonymous because he feared reprisals from extremists.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/4/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Trouble is My Business

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The Freedom to Marry


Two women wishing to marry each other face a daunting obstacle.

Two women wishing to marry each other face a daunting obstacle.

(2016) Documentary (Argot) Evan Wolfson, Mary Bonauto, Marc Solomon, Thalia Zepatos, Jayne Rowse, April DeBoer, Brian Brown, Janice Shaw Crouse, Barbara Rosenstein, Joan Wolfson, Sondie Rieff, Dr. Jerry Wolfson, Carole Stamyar, Matt Foreman, Garry Buseck, Ward Curtin, Tim Gill, Kate Kendell. Directed by Eddie Rosenstein

 

There is no doubt that one of the most important court cases of our time resulted in the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2015. By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court invalidated the laws of 13 states that made same-sex marriage illegal. Gay men and lesbians from that day forward had the same freedom to marry whomever they wished as their straight counterparts.

Getting to that point however was no easy task. Evan Wolfson, a Harvard-educated lawyer, started crusading for this freedom starting back in 1983. He had co-founded Freedom to Marry along with Marc Solomon who was a seasoned campaign director. Together, the men started a grassroots organization charged with changing America’s mind. Back then, Americans were overwhelmingly in favor of traditional marriages as being the only recognized ones. Nonetheless, Wolfson and Solomon, along with a handful of volunteers, felt that they needed to fight so that same sex couples got the same rights and privileges as straight couples got, including the right to inherit, the right to make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner and the right to adopt and raise children.

Mary Bonauto felt very much the same way Wolfson and Solomon do. A lawyer working for GLAD, a gay and lesbian organization along the same lines as the NAACP, Bonauto had been waging a battle to represent same sex couples get their unions legally recognized for decades. It was often frustrating heart-wrenching work as again and again gay rights lawyers like Bonauto and Wolfson were denied justice.

The passing of California’s heinous Proposition 8 was particularly galling. Wolfson in particular was devastated but as he began the postmortem of why the initiative had passed he came to a realization that most straight people saw gays as hedonistic deviants who didn’t marry for love but because they wanted the health care benefits of their “spouse.” He realized that the task was not necessarily to ramrod an unpopular law through but to turn the tide of public opinion and make them see LGBTQs as just like everyone else. In short, he needed their stories to be told.

What they accomplished was nothing short of miraculous. Starting with polls and focus groups, they began recruiting operatives – LGBTQ couples and their parents – to begin talking openly about their hopes and dreams, about the love they share for their partner and about their concerns for their children. In almost no time at all, public opinion began to shift. State laws began to change.

Wolfson felt the time was right to go for broke – a ruling from the Supreme Court itself that would once and for all make same-sex marriage legal throughout the land. Freedom to Marry and other advocacy groups chose four lawsuits that had made their way through the courts to challenge the Defense of Marriage Act as well as Proposition 8. One of those cases was committed couple Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer from Michigan.

Rowse and DeBoer are both medical care professionals who had a longstanding relationship. They had adopted four special needs children but they realized that due to Michigan’s laws, they could not adopt as a couple because they were lesbians; they had to adopt two of the children individually. Therefore if something happened to one of them, their adopted children would not stay automatically with the other partner but would be taken away and placed in a foster care home. To both these ladies this simply could not stand and they brought suit against the State of Michigan which went all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court where once again they were unsuccessful. This paved the way for history.

Rosenstein follows the triumvirate of Wolfson, Solomon and Bonauto in the months leading up to the landmark decision. Bonauto had been legal counsel on the Rowse-DeBoer lawsuit and was a welcome addition to the team that would be presenting arguments in front of the United States Supreme Court. Bonauto, who had never done so before, was understandably nervous. Rosenstein gives us background on all three of these major players (and to a lesser degree to the plaintiffs De Boer and Rowse, the only plaintiffs profiled at any length in the film) going back to childhood.

Some of the material, particularly when they’re discussing things like Amicus Briefs and legal strategies, is a bit dry. Bone-dry, as a matter of fact but don’t let that put you off; this is a film that even though you know how the decision is going to turn out still manages to build a certain amount of suspense and tension. The relief is absolutely cathartic and I was taken back to when I heard about the decision just a couple of years ago and the euphoria I felt. Finally, my gay friends had the same freedoms and privileges that my wife and I had and I couldn’t have been happier for them.

Rosenstein does present some opposing viewpoints – that of Bryan Brown and Janice Shaw Crouse – as well as protesters from the right including people who appear to be part of the Westboro Baptist Church. Brown sounds relatively reasoned at times but both he and Crouse come off as intolerant bigots whose Christian justification has more to do with fear than love. Evangelical Christianity does not come off well in this documentary and some might find that hurtful.

However, perhaps if more Christians stood up for love (and many do) rather than exclusion, perhaps they might not be judged so harshly. Certainly the anti-gay protesters will be on the wrong side of history when all is said and done. Regardless, this is a documentary that shows an amazing journey of how a relatively small activist group won the hearts and minds of the American people against all odds and helped make history in a positive way. To my mind this is an important and potentially Oscar-worthy documentary although having a relatively unknown distributor might work against it in that sense but were this being distributed by an outfit with more clout there would be no question that it would be getting consideration further down the line.

REASONS TO GO: A behind-the-scenes chronicle of one of the most important court cases of our time. Even though the outcome is well-known still manages to make an uplifting ending. Fast-paced editing keeps the audience’s interest. Evan Wolfson is a genuine hero.
REASONS TO STAY: Sometimes the subject matter can be a little dry.
FAMILY VALUES: Adult thematic content as well as some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Following their success making same sex marriage legal all over the land, Freedom to Marry shut its doors in December 2015 and Wolfson continues to consult for LGBTQ activist organizations.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/4/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Case Against 8
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: Take My Nose…Please

CORRECTIONS: Marc Solomon was originally described as “an expert fundraiser” which should have read “seasoned campaign director.” Also, Mary Bonauto was a lawyer for GLAD, not GLAAD. The former was an error on the part of the reviewer, the latter a typo. Cinema365 regrets any confusion that may have been caused by our errors.