The 15:17 to Paris

1517-paris-rev The 15:17 to Paris  (2018)    Warner Bros./Drama-Thriller    RT: 94 minutes    Rated PG-13 (bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references, language)    Director: Clint Eastwood    Screenplay: Dorothy Blyskal    Music: Christian Jacob    Cinematography: Tom Stern    Release date: February 9, 2018 (US)    Cast: Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar, Paul-Mikel Williams, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Thomas Lennon, Tony Hale, P.J. Byrne, Jaleel White, Irene White, Christopher Norman, Jeanne Goursaud, Alisa Allapach.

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 The last 20 minutes of The 15:17 to Paris is so good, it’s a crime that the 74 minutes leading up to it flounders so badly. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it’s the third and weakest entry in his Real American Heroes series after American Sniper and Sully. As of late, the 87-year-old filmmaker has favored true stories about ordinary men performing extraordinary acts of heroism which is exactly what Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos did on August 21, 2015. The three longtime friends were on a train bound for Paris when an armed-to-the-teeth Islamic terrorist attempted a hijacking. The Americans immediately sprung into action, jumping, disarming and subduing the gunman in a matter of minutes (with the help of 62-year-old British businessman Chris Norman). They are true heroes; if only the movie was more befitting.

15 17 paris posterFor one thing, The 15:17 to Paris is weirdly constructed. Most movies of this sort would center on the crisis itself and relate background information about the characters in flashbacks. Eastwood opens his movie with a few shots of a faceless man boarding the train and getting ready for action. Then he takes us back several years to when the three heroes are misunderstood kids who play war games and get into trouble at school. They’re the kind of kids that teachers and administrators are always out to get. Early on, a snotty teacher informs two of the mothers (Greer and Fischer) that their sons probably have ADD because (a) they’re behind on their reading skills and (b) they look out the window during class. She advises the mothers to drug them and shames them further for being single mothers to which Greer replies, “My God is bigger than your statistics!” One of the oddest things about The 15:17 to Paris is how it mentions religion a few times (the boys attend a strict Christian school, Stone prays a lot) but fails to examine the spiritual lives of the main characters with any depth.

 The movie jumps ahead a few years and follows Stone as he enters the military but can’t get the job he wants due to poor depth perception (a problem he apparently shares with the screenwriter). Alek joins the military too and serves in Afghanistan. Sadler remains a civilian; it’s never said what kind of work he does or if he even does work. The three guys decide to travel through Europe in summer ’15. A whole section of The 15:17 to Paris is devoted to their trip. What’s the point of showing this? It’s like watching the self-made videos of an acquaintance who assumes everybody is interested in every detail of a trip they took at some point. Who cares about the historical sites they visited or the clubs and restaurants they went to? This part goes on way too long. Then we get to the train incident. This is where Eastwood’s skill as a filmmaker really shows. The reenactment is superbly done. It’s tense, exciting and thrilling. The technical aspects- e.g. editing, framing, etc.- are spot-on. It goes a long way towards saving The 15:17 to Paris from complete failure.

 However, The 15:17 to Paris is still a misfire on many levels. Surprisingly, the acting isn’t one of its biggest problems. It’s actually a little better than I expected. What I haven’t yet mentioned but everybody already knows is that the real life heroes play themselves in the movie. I never thought of Eastwood as somebody that would go for gimmicks so I was surprised to hear about his unorthodox casting for his latest movie. For non-professional actors, the three leads do a decent job. Their performances aren’t terrible. Stone has an easy-going, goofy charm, sort of like a stockier version of Cheers-era Woody Harrelson. Sadler has natural screen presence. Only Alek comes off as a bit wooden. They’re at their best when reenacting the train incident. The rest of the time, like I said, it’s like watching FaceBook videos. As for the rest of the cast, known actors like Thomas Lennon (The Odd Couple), Tony Hale (Arrested Development) and Jaleel White (Urkel from Family Matters) each have only a couple of minutes of screen time.

 As for other matters, the characters aren’t so much developed as they are outlined. We learn a few general things but never really get to know them. Well, we get to know a few things about Stone (e.g. he’s a screw-up, he wants to help people) but he still never feels like a fully rounded person. The families we learn even less about. Sadler’s family doesn’t even appear until the final scenes. The dialogue is stiff and clunky. The screenplay by Dorothy Blyskal is equally so. Eastwood doesn’t do The 15:17 to Paris any favors by concentrating on the before instead of the after, a point I tried to make earlier. I get he wanted to approach this true tale of heroism differently than he did in Sully and Flags of Our Fathers. It doesn’t work, plain and simple. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more of what happened to the guys after their selfless act. The “before” scenes have a phoniness to them, they’re more like filler.

 I really hate to come down on Eastwood. I’m a longtime admirer of him. He’s one of my favorite actors. He’s a master director. Like everybody else in the world, he’s not perfect. He’s made a few disappointing movies in his 47 years as a director. I give him a lot of credit for still being active at his age (he’ll be 88 on May 31). We don’t know how much longer he’ll be with us so each new movie of his is a treasure as it could be his last. I really wish I had better things to say about The 15:17 to Paris. It’s an awesome story and deserves much better treatment than it gets here. Sorry, Clint. Better luck with your next one. 

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