TV Review: American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (FX)

Having made it past the midpoint of FX’s nine-episode American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, directed by Netflix’s new multimillion dollar man, Glee creator Ryan Murphy, I have no reason to think it’s going to improve and every reason to think it’s going to get worse. This miniseries, based on a book by a writer for Vanity Fair and denounced by the late fashion designer’s family as fully fictional, confuses, distorts and detracts from itself.

And that’s going on its own terms. Its terms, by the way, contrary to its title, have very little to do with one of the world’s most fascinating modern fashion figures, the late Gianni Versace, and more centrally to do with his assassin, gay poseur and gigolo Andrew Cunanan. After five episodes, it’s clear that this is a major part of the problem with The Assassination of Gianni Versace, which began with a taunting recreation of the Miami assassination on an epic, operatic scale.

What could have been a probing, insightful, or simply engrossing deep dive into the gay scene breaks apart into a thousand tiny, petty pieces signifying nothing except a morbid fixation on blood, death and horror. If you don’t know or have forgotten, Cunanan’s 1990s killing spree touches upon gay subculture in multiple potential arcs, ranging from the gay community’s ageism with its youth fetish to its uniquely blank sanction of indiscriminate sex without regard for the consequences. Whenever this series starts to half-raise an issue worthy of dramatization as it relates to Cunanan’s horrifying (and I mean horrifying as in gruesome and grisly) crimes, it bails and goes for quick, cheap shots.

Darren Criss (Glee) portrays Andrew Cunanan, a player in San Diego’s gay scene who became a serial killer more like spree killers Bonnie and Clyde or the Clutter murderers than like Ted Bundy, John Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer, whose murders were numerous, premeditated and planned over time. Criss is a decent actor from what I’ve seen, though, here, his role is reduced to wide-eyed facial expressions, giggles and stunned silences to convey the character’s breach with reality. The Assassination of Gianni Versace unfolds in a backward timeline, unfortunately, costing the show any real sense of what happened and why because it doggedly stays focused on what happened at each killing point — Minneapolis, Chicago, the Carolinas, Miami — rather than why. So, Criss never gets an opportunity to dramatize Cunanan’s interior thoughts, motives and trigger points.

This may come later, but, by now, Cunanan’s background, psychology and motive should be well on the way to clarity in the series’ theme. They’re not. Instead, the portrayal repeats the same crazed look, followed by kinky sex (usually, merely the suggestion of sex) and cold-blooded outbursts resulting in murder and often, later, a few giggles, songs and frolicking about the room. Anyone who followed Cunanan’s 1997 killing spree knows how this ends and, those, like me, who followed it closely may already know or be able to suppose what moved and motivated Andrew Cunanan to seek out intelligent, creative gay men, envy them to the point of grafting himself onto them and all the bloody, ugly rest. But, again, The Assassination of Gianni Versace jolts with only the most shocking scenes and pre-scenes, leaving what made these men return Cunanan’s interests aside. Something must’ve drawn Lee Miglin, a top Chicago architect, father and husband, bravely portrayed by Mike Farrell, to Cunanan. The Assassination of Gianni Versace never shows why.

The same goes for Jeffrey Trail (Finn Wittrock) an ex-Navy officer and David Madson (Cody Fern). Murphy’s show logs character studies about each man and murder victim, but never connects the victim to the handsome, exotic and smoothly fraudulent Cunanan, who must have been more alluring and enticing than is portrayed here. Instead, each victim is sort of explained (thus far in the series) to oversimplification. Trail’s a military man who is tormented by his sexual orientation to the point of suicide and becomes vulnerable prey. Madson, as depicted here, loves his father (a good turn by John Lacy) but should have come out sooner. Miglin is a closeted gay architect who’s proud of his productiveness — he shows Cunanan a sketch of his skyscraper — but he’s a religious man who acts out his forbidden desires. Versace, played by Edgar Ramirez who does what he can with the part, gets even less characterization. Versace’s lover (an unconvincing Ricky Martin with little to say or do) has a complicated, non-monogamous relationship with Versace, which, again, might be a good flashpoint for dramatizing how gays are marginalized and act out accordingly, but any evidence of complication is cut out.

Versace’s enigmatic sister, Donatella, is played by miscast Penelope Cruz, whose accent is difficult to understand. The actress is too glamorous in the part, missing an opportunity to portray why Donatella became even more interesting in the wake of her brother’s homefront assassination.

Rough gay trade dominates the show without getting an appropriate tie-in, too, leading the audience with the impression that American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, like the stereotype of gays as shallow, petty and frivolous or flamboyant, exists to shock and titillate. For example, restraints, toys and explicit scenes are deployed without development.

Dialogue is painfully inadequate. Cunanan’s lines with victim characters ring most false. Miglin, Trail and Madson look at him and talk to him as if he’s escaped from a mental health clinic and that’s before they realize he’s going to murder them. This leaves the question of how he gained such access and power completely unanswered, let alone properly, interestingly dramatized. The disjointed series plays like a choppy but moody horror movie, tossing plot points across its ominously scored scenes, assuming the audience knows what Cunanan’s thinking, photographing everything with a greenish, artificially muted tint to enhance the surrealism, which only enhances the distortion, and taking the killer’s perspective.

A scene of Andrew Cunanan eating a bowl of what looks like Kellogg’s Froot Loops (get it?) adds nothing to the plot. That it probably never happened supports the Versace family’s statements renouncing this uneven, insignificant show as purely and entirely fictitious and worse for sensationalizing mass death. Netflix, which recently inked a big deal with The Assassination of Gianni Versace‘s creator and director, should take note that Hollywood legend Olivia De Havilland, the 100-year-old actress portrayed without her consent or permission in Ryan Murphy’s FX show Feud and suing to restore her good name and reputation, similarly dissents.

So, it’s not that The Assassination of Gianni Versace, barring any unforeseen turnaround in its remaining four episodes, does not dramatize the truth about the murder of a fashion legend (though I highly doubt it). It’s not even that it doesn’t try (though it doesn’t). It’s a bunch of slick scenes quickly stitched together to maximize titillation while faking that it has a meaning and primarily for the sake of the assassin, not the men or the man the assassin downed, which glorifies murder with horror (and badly). The real horror is how these innocent men fell prey to this monster and, perhaps, what made and makes Cunanan evil and depraved.

But depicting this would have required a story. What’s so unfortunate about American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace is that it fails to properly portray the relationship between the criminal and his victims, so it never becomes a crime story.

TV Review: The Looming Tower (Hulu)

Having previewed Hulu’s new TV miniseries based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning book, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright, I can attest that the series takes its subject, the impending Islamic terrorist siege on September 11, 2001, seriously. The show chiefly stands out for an intelligent performance by Jeff Daniels as federal policeman John O’Neill.

O’Neill tried in vain to warn the United States government that Islamic jihadists would strike the World Trade Center again after 1993. In the wake of repeated failures by the U.S. government, despite being forewarned in specific detail in advance, to stop Islamic terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Boston, Orlando and Texas, The Looming Tower depicts the truth about the ominous implications of today’s corrupt, deficient United States government and its surveillance statism. This week’s newest mass murder in Florida, another instance in which the federal government knew in advance of an impending attack and did nothing, highlights the point.

The Looming Tower follows key members of the the FBI’s and CIA’s counter-terrorism teams in New York and Washington, D.C. as they jockey for status or, in O’Neill’s case, rush to prevent new jihadist acts of war, while ostensibly working to achieve the same goal. With crackling dialogue, and not too much equivocation of the enemy’s ideology, this well-paced procedural re-creates condensed points from Wright’s 2006 bestseller, focusing on the government’s detrimental internal rivalry.

Emphasis on John O’Neill, the subject of Frontline‘s excellent profile, “The Man Who Knew“, as he faces and responds to attacks on Americans, including the Iranian-sponsored attack on the USS Cole, is warranted. This politically incorrect freethinker, who died when Islamic terrorists attacked America on Black Tuesday, forecast the act of war which ended his life.

Jeff Daniels, recently cast to play Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s new Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and so memorably effective in key roles in Pleasantville and Steve Jobs, steals every scene. Whether battling his CIA counterpart Martin Schmidt (Peter Sarsgaard) or mentoring an Islamic colleague (Ali Soufan), Daniels portrays O’Neill with the passion, rationality and sense of urgency he is reported by Wright and Frontline to have possessed.

Legendary Television’s The Looming Tower, which also stars Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name) as Richard Clarke, airs the first episode on February 28 — two days after the 25th anniversary of the first Islamic terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (previously depicted in the HBO movie Path to Paradise).

I did not watch every episode of The Looming Tower. What I have seen is very good.

Hotel Review: Fairmont Pittsburgh

For superior hospitality in downtown Pittsburgh, I recommend the Fairmont Pittsburgh. Having stayed at other area hotels over time during various visits, including one last summer for OCON Pittsburgh, when I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Pittsburgh Airport, which was great, and the Sheraton at Station Square, which was not, I listened this time to friends and family who suggested visiting the Fairmont hotel. Accommodations were exemplary for my needs and tastes. Expectations were rarely exceeded and mostly met. I took advantage of the downtown location, a block from Market Square, near Point State Park and close to everything in Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle, walking to cafes, museums and skyscrapers, all while taking in the city’s architecture, bridges and industry.

Speaking of the Fairmont Pittsburgh‘s location, I could’ve taken the T (rail transit) to meet a friend for breakfast at the Dor-Stop Restaurant in Dormont, though since it was cold, I summoned an Uber car instead, which was fine (and I found that Uber is easier than Lyft, at least in this city). I arrived a bit early.

Returning later to a perfectly appointed room overlooking PNC Park where the Pirates play baseball, called a parkview room here, I was very pleased with the 15th floor room. Robes, slippers, old-fashioned alarm clock, coffee, tea, cordless phones, ink and paper — the clean, quiet, spacious room had everything I needed and the best part was the silence. Overlooking city streets, the Allegheny River, skyscrapers — with a view of the Gulf Oil Building tucked between glass towers — during a winter storm was a wonderful sight. The room is functional, with a generously sized desk, plenty of smartly placed outlets for my gear, a swiveling flat screen television and safe, ironing board and deadbolt on the door. I use a Verismo machine for coffee at home, so the Keurig coffee machine was new to me. Though I figured it out, the Keurig’s instructional drawings left out a step, which is why I prefer written, as against pictorial, directions. I was surprised to find that the room lacks a general hotel guide, though this may have been an oversight. A daily newspaper is available in the lobby but it’s a New York paper, not the local Post-Gazette.

The bathroom is also spacious and generously appointed, though someone forgot to include shampoo and conditioner, which were promptly sent upon request. I did notice and report what I suspect is a design flaw in the glass shower door, which persistenly left a puddle when I exited the tiled shower. With a ledge, corner caddy for soap and rain-style shower, plus a bath and separate toilet area, accessories and quality towels, I was satisfied.

Fairmont Pittsburgh advertises itself as a luxury hotel and I found that it’s worth what I paid (county taxes are highest among the multiple taxes) for its location, quality and relaxed, businesslike atmosphere. In fact, it’s connected to business offices, so the relatively small hotel staff is happily welcoming and not overzealous. That said, a couple of front desk clerks weren’t the most attentive, failing to make eye contact, but generally staff were friendly and responsive. Check in and check out were both swift and professional. I really like that staff mostly left me alone to do business and come and go while nodding in recognition or extending a short greeting. They usually knew the answers to my questions, i.e., about the area, facilities, etc., when asked. Doorman Ron offered a tip that I walk to Heinz History Center, which I did in spite of the cold, rainy weather. I needed the exercise, though the fitness center’s very functional, too, so I’m glad I did.

I ate at the main restaurant twice. I first went for a solo breakfast, which was served exactly and promptly as I ordered (crisp, not limp or overcooked, bacon, eggs scrambled easy and fresh tomatoes) which was delicious, and again when I met someone for lunch. I ordered the salad and a pot of tea and both were fine. The restaurant, which my luncheon guest, who’s a longtime Pittsburgher, knew by its former name Habitat, is unfortunately called fl.2 (that’s the name). There’s a bar there, too, with a happy hour, which I would’ve enjoyed trying out if I’d had the time. The restaurant wallpaper shows wear and tear; again, not the best for what ought to be a four or five-star hotel. But fl.2 and its excellent staff really is a top property asset. The second floor place is perfect for conversation, conferences and catching up. I think this is because it’s removed from the main hotel traffic and action and, while there’s a partial view overlooking the Fairmont Pittsburgh‘s unique location near where major avenues converge at an angle toward Point State Park and where the Monongahela River and Allegheny River merge into the Ohio River, the view does not dominate the experience.

In summary, I think the secret of the Fairmont Pittsburgh success is its understated air, which emanates from a downtown business approach matched by its removal from potentially hectic surroundings due to its island-like setback and trim, elegant design. This is not a showcase hotel, so its guests and staff are probably disinclined to strut and show off. Andy’s, a casual bar off the lobby which is probably named for Pittsburgh artist Andy Warhol though I’d like to think is named for Pittsburgh capitalists Andrew Mellon and Andrew Carnegie, offers a DJ and live jazz band on certain nights. Both sounded terrific as I walked by, giving Andy’s and the Fairmont an inviting and not too solicitous sense that guests can relax, mingle and achieve solitude.

Exhibit Review: American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

I was excited to happen upon the final scheduled tour stop of an exhibit titled “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” at Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center in the strip district last week. I had seen the PBS documentary on Prohibition’s history, which is very good. With resurgent Puritanism in today’s Me, Too hysteria and emotional calls for government-controlled drugs and drug addiction treatment, I was ready for an account of how America had fallen for, and ultimately rejected, a band of hysterical women and preachers railing against consumption of alcohol.

The exhibit is clear, concise and comprehensive. It flows from an area designed to resemble a church in which the hysterical pleas, denunciations and propaganda of America’s thugs and religionists, and some were both, are excerpted and displayed to sections detailing passage of the Constitutional amendment to ban alcohol. The exhibit moves from there to a replicated speakeasy, followed by an area devoted to exploring the criminalization of alcohol and its impact, turning gangs, thugs and mobs into sources for pleasure, release and self-medication, and the Roosevelt administration’s push for total government control. “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” concludes with the triumphant effort to repeal the amendment and restore sanity, justice and individual rights to American law, reminding those of us opposed to the surveillance state, ObamaCare and the TSA that bad laws, contrary to the Trump administration’s pathetic excuses for not draining the swamp, have been and can be overturned. Repeal is part of our history.

Indeed, “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” demonstrates how. But it begins with an extensive display examining the very real problem of alcohol consumption in America at the turn of the previous century. The Industrial Revolution cannot be understated in terms of liberating and enlightening the world. By then, alcohol consumption was high; Americans were already drinking to excess. Accordingly, the most productive single period of history exacerbated the downsides of a magnificent leap in human progress. One of them is alcoholism. This exhibit tells the truth about what went on; like today’s rampant hedonism and drug abuse, drunkenness infected the young nation:

By 1830…[o]n average, Americans over the age of 15 were guzzling seven gallons of pure alcohol each year. This was the equivalent of 90 bottles of 80-proof liquor – or about four shots every day. Three times greater than current levels, it remains the highest measured volume of consumption in U.S. history. The consequences of this national binge would be severe.”

Enter the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which became a 250,000-women army led by Francis Willard whose wooden gavel with white ribbon, with white symbolizing purity, was used to run the group’s meetings. Exhibit materials report that religious denominations that forbade alcohol consumption, such as Baptists and Methodists, led the siege and, in 1893, in Oberlin, Ohio, the Anti-Saloon League (ASL), led entirely by Protestant ministers, was born. As with today’s Me, Too harridans, religionists exploited the problem and distorted facts, grafting themselves onto the scourge of alcoholism while leading a religious crusade for Puritanism in the American republic.

They won.

Again, “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” shows how. With an accelerated campaign of lies, smears and insinuations, fringe figures, such as WCTU chieftain Francis Willard, war veteran Richmond P. Hobson, who became an Alabama congressman, Democrat populist and Christian fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan, a Trump-like figure who’d testified against teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in the Scopes monkey trial and became Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state, and the nation’s most famous religious evangelist, Reverend Billy Sunday, gained power through guilt and intimidation. Railing against the undeniable problem of alcohol consumption and public drunkenness, including fights, absent fathers and husbands and moral decline, they spoke, wrote and organized the campaign based on faith, half-truths, commandments and raw, unfiltered emotions. Reading their pledges, speeches and posters, it is clearly emotionalism. Americans took what they ranted on faith.

The religionists attacked private property. They indoctrinated youths with distortions of medical and scientific data in textbooks distributed through public schools. They invoked sobriety pledges. In fact, the WCTU succeeded in getting every state in the U.S. to require “temperance education in public schools”. The Woman’s Christian pressure group created a Department of Scientific Instruction which produced textbooks and instruction manuals and asked teachers to fill out report cards on how they encouraged temperance in their classrooms. A WCTU textbook, report card, and temperance lesson manual are on display in the exhibit, which reports that an estimated 50 percent of American schools carried the false and misleading religious propaganda. Scientists and doctors cited in the children’s textbooks altered the facts to suit Woman’s Christian Temperance Union dictates.

Visitors can read, listen and re-create excerpts from the anti-American speeches, including Reverend Billy Sunday’s 1916 “booze speech” (“The saloonkeeper is worse than a thief and a murderer…the saloon is an infidel”). A copy of the sermon with handwritten notes appears under his portrait, which hangs above the recreated wooden pulpit. Reverend Sunday believed that liquor was “God’s worst enemy” and “Hell’s best friend.” Willard invoked militant opposition to alcohol. William Jennings Bryan comes off as easily the most persuasive, reasonable evangelist, talking about the downsides of alcohol consumption and downplaying the hellfire and damnation in this particular excerpt. According to the exhibit, Bryan believed:

that Prohibition could improve the lives of ordinary Americans. He also was a supporter of the amendments to establish the income tax, provide for the direct election of senators, and grant the vote to women. Bryan ran for president three times on the Democratic ticket, but lost each time…Later, while serving as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, he lived out his temperance beliefs by serving grape juice instead of wine at formal functions.

Carrie Nation’s weapon to destroy private property

If Bryan was one of the more convincing Prohibition advocates, the most belligerent leader was a religious thug named Carrie Nation, who mostly went by ‘Carry Nation’ for publicity purposes. Beneath this crusading woman’s portrait, a glass case displays the oak and steel hatchet she wielded when she broke into a bar to smash a wall mirror during one of her infamous raids. On her picture, which shows the miserable-looking woman posed for battle, exhibitors report that:

Carrie Amelia Nation was six feet tall, with the biceps of a stevedore, the face of a prison warden, and the persistence of a toothache. Using these assets to promote her cause, Nation became famous when she strode into a saloon in Topeka, Kansas, and pulled out a hatchet, smashing all the bottles and the mirror behind the bar. Nation called her raids on saloons “hatchetations.”

The rest of “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” bears out the truth about America’s alcohol ban, though this central question of how a civilized nation elected to impose an applied, total government control on itself remains the most pressing, relevant and timely. This also makes the first section on pre-Prohibition quietly disturbing. As if to underscore this point, the exhibit in this area includes an iPad questionnaire to determine whether you’re what was then referred to as either a wet or a dry. By judging answers to questions about the proper role of government, for instance, including the emerging and rising welfare state, visitors might be surprised to see which side they end up on.

The “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” exhibition, which includes a full accounting of the horrors of this wicked law and its impact, from state-sponsored alcohol spies to the many Americans who died because the ban existed, is presented by the Bognar Family and sponsored by Robert J. and Bonnie Cindrich and Latasha Wilson Batch; with support from local government, the Heinz Endowments and Richard King Mellon Foundation. Pittsburgh is the last scheduled stop on the tour for this exhibit, which runs until June of this year. With a fresh dusting of snow after a winter storm, downtown Pittsburgh was wet, cold and icy during my stay at the Fairmont Pittsburgh, though the weather had warmed to the low forties by Saturday, so I took the bellman up on his suggestion to walk along Penn to Heinz History Center. It’s interesting that the city of bridges is the Prohibition exhibit’s last stop because Pittsburgh is packed with Catholics who drink … a lot. And they’re still saddled with Prohibition’s outrageous regulations.

“Pennsylvania was one of many states where it ultimately became harder to buy alcohol after Repeal than during the 1920s, thanks to laws and controls put in place in 1933,” the exhibit’s lead curator, Leslie Przybylek, told the museum’s communications director in an interview. “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” was originally curated by Daniel Okrent, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. These final months are the last call for an outstanding exhibition about an American injustice.

Movie Review: The 15:17 to Paris

The newest movie directed by Clint Eastwood, The 15:17 to Paris, is as plain and perfunctory as its title. Screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal oversimplifies the heroes’ decency, mixing in clashing motivations (possibly taken from the heroes’ book upon which this film is based). Mr. Eastwood’s minimalist filmmaking and decision to cast the three American heroes whose story unfolds here puts 15:17 to Paris in a striking contrast to today’s overproduced movies, such as Marvel’s mangled Black Panther, though both movies have conflicted themes in common.

Similarities end there. For starters, unlike Marvel’s movies and like the heroic story of 12 Strong, the extraordinary events depicted in 15:17 to Paris happened. Three Americans chose to act upon their own judgment, tackling an Islamic terrorist rampaging with an arsenal through a train, capturing, detaining and hogtying the jihadist, securing the train and medically treating wounded passengers. The three Americans saying “Let’s go” recalls Flight 93’s American passengers saying “Let’s roll” on 9/11. In this case, saving everyone on board. 15:17 to Paris depicts the Islamic terrorist attack, which is unfortunately never branded as an Islamic terrorist attack, and what made three friends since childhood in California the type of men to shut it down.

That Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and, especially, Spencer Stone, who portray themselves, went from forgotten middle school students to European hostel heroes tracks back within each individual to mutually shared confidence in being a boy with the world as his to master. This exuberant boyhood is cultivated by the boys themselves, who play war with toy guns, study combat with maps and certain gaming scenarios and think of themselves as worthy in themselves, not as means to the ends of others. Raised by single mothers, except for Anthony, a charismatic black kid whose home life goes unseen, these boys struggle from 2005 to 2015 in today’s government-dominated educational system, which ignores or neglects boys. When switched to a religious school, problems persist and deepen. But Alek and Spencer also meet Anthony, who becomes their playmate and, in a way, mentor. Anthony, the least anxious of the trio, is the one who challenges Spencer, who’s the center of The 15:17 to Paris, which intersperses flashes leading up to the jihadist siege.

Anthony’s candor is his armor, as anyone who watched his breathtaking accounts of the attack knows. The white boys enlist in America’s military, Spencer seeking meaning in life and Alek, whose mother says she talks to God, driven by legacy. By the time they trek across Europe, they’ve been three decent, productive boys who seek to acquire knowledge, trade and play to live meaningful, enjoyable lives. Whatever fleeting notions and hunches anyone voices, and 15:17 to Paris sends mixed signals, these three move toward action with a sense of purpose. They expend effort. They practice. They fail. But, always, these boys prepare for life as men.

For instance, during an alert at Lackland Air Force Base, Spencer goes rogue. But, in doing so, Spencer shows strength and preparedness. Called out by his instructor, he knows exactly why he chose to disobey orders (and he has a point). Alek, deployed in Afghanistan, becomes the reason his fellow soldiers must divert from plans, endangering the team. But Alek, later visiting Germany, honors an ancestor’s military service, demonstrating a commitment to think, re-think, act and become his best. In a smaller way, brandishing a selfie stick while being a tourist with Spencer, Anthony, too, learns from his mistakes. Each superficially bounces like a rolling stone toward the unseen, the unknown, like many young Americans. But each acts like he knows that he’s taking charge of his life and that he likes and knows that he’ll earn it.

This may be Mr. Eastwood’s point, and movies he directs, such as Sully, American Sniper and Jersey Boys, reflect the idea that Western man is good, decent and honorable. Clint Eastwood is too journalistic and pragmatic to fully dramatize this theme but his movies tend to be good, sometimes excellent.

With the actors portraying themselves coming off as more self-conscious than natural, The 15:17 to Paris is less a docudrama than a stone-faced re-creation. It’s too scripted, stiff and staged. Yet 15:17 to Paris reconstructs their lives and re-creates their goodness, making the climactic terrorist attack by the religious fundamentalist (Roy Corasani) more tense and dramatic. Every encounter in Europe, especially boarding the Paris-bound train when they help an old man, is benevolent. Whether speaking in the foreign language of the land they visit, flirting with young women or trading while traveling, no one is the Ugly American, to use that hackneyed term. The men, as I previously wrote, represent the heroic American — each a kind of handsome, upright cowboy.

Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris contrasts these innocent, cheerful, peaceful Westerners, unashamed of their Americanism and wearing symbols of Adidas, Yosemite and Los Angeles basketball, with the barbaric religious terrorist, whose eye is evil and whose face is blank. The muffled sound of the siege on the train to Paris follows ramblings about God, destiny and determinism and Spencer, who more than anyone saved the 15:17 to Paris, says a prayer. But a French statesman calls these three men what they are: Americans (also a Brit) who “fight for liberty”…to “save humanity itself”. As with his movie about Mandela in Africa, Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s underproduced new movie is probably too muddled and plain to convey its theme that the essence of being American means reverence for life — and that it’s usually the American who achieves peace and harmony and fights to preserve both.