The 15:17 to Paris
2018, PG-13, 94 min. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, Ray Corasani, P.J. Byrne, Tony Hale, Thomas Lennon, Paul-Mikél Williams, Bryce Gheisar, William Jennings.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Feb. 16, 2018
It’s little wonder Clint Eastwood gravitated toward bringing this tale to the screen, given its camera-ready elements. It’s a story made for the movies: Three twentysomething, true-blue Americans backpacking through Europe courageously thwart an armed terrorist attack on a high-speed train en route to Paris, saving the lives of countless passengers at the risk of each losing his own. Close friends since grade school, the young men are instantly hailed as heroes in the eyes of the world, welcome reminders that good guys often prevail. And the kicker? It’s all true, having actually occurred on August 21, 2015, less than three years ago. Given its can’t-miss potential, you’d think this would be one kickass movie. So why is The 15:17 to Paris such a trainwreck?
You can’t point your finger in any one direction. Whether the decision to cast the three white knights (Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone) as themselves is a gimmicky stunt or a nodding tribute is unclear, though it’s hardly a novel concept. Highly decorated World War II combat soldier Audie Murphy famously starred as himself in the 1955 biopic To Hell and Back, a huge financial success at the time. While none of them are trained as actors (each has a tendency to look straight ahead while reciting lines in an unmodulated delivery), they don’t entirely suck (Sadler seems the most comfortable on camera), though admittedly the most seasoned of performers would have a tough time breathing life into first-time screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal's underwhelming screenplay, which lacks any dramatic thrust until nearly the end (when it has to).
Based on a ghostwritten account by Jeffrey Stern, the subpar script is almost all backstory, beginning with the initial intersection of the young men’s lives as rowdy youngsters attending a private Christian academy and ending with their fateful tour of the Continent nearly two decades later, which culminated in headlines across the globe. This tedious expositional phase of the film (nearly two-thirds of its running time) attempts to provide some insight into the dynamic of their friendship, although it principally focuses on Stone, the gung-ho Air Force airman who’s convinced that life is catapulting him toward some greater purpose (The movie suggests time and time again that his and the others’ presence on the train was a fluke).
What’s most disturbing are accomplished filmmaker Eastwood’s wrongheaded directorial choices (Some viewers may also find the movie’s hawkish sentiments off-putting). Washed-out and tinny, the childhood scenes are barely a notch above an after-school special, while the trip abroad is a tiresome travelogue this side of enduring a relative’s home movies. If you’re being generous, you might assume Eastwood is pursuing a minimalist, hyper-realistic approach here, with the objective of complimenting the casting of ordinary Joes who did an extraordinary thing. If so, it doesn’t work. Among Eastwood’s many strengths as a filmmaker is his ability to convincingly tell (and sell) a story, but that dependable attribute is conspicuously absent until the film arrives at the moment everyone’s waiting for. It’s a heart-pumping 15-minute or so sequence that proves that the old man’s still got it, but whether it’s worth the wait will depend on your level of patience.
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The 15:17 to Paris, Clint Eastwood, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, Ray Corasani, P.J. Byrne, Tony Hale, Thomas Lennon, Paul-Mikél Williams, Bryce Gheisar, William Jennings