A film review by Craig J. Koban February 24, 2018

THE 15:17 TO PARIS  j
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2018, PG-13, 94 mins.

 

Alek Skarlatos as Alek Skarlatos  /  Anthony Sadler as Anthony Sadler  /  Spencer Stone as Airman Spencer Stone  /  Ray Corasani as Ayoub El-Khazzani  /  Jenna Fischer as Heidi Skarlatos  /  Judy Greer as Joyce Eskel  /  Jaleel White as Garrett Walden

Directed by Clint Eastwood  /  Written by Dorothy Blyskal, based on the book by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Jeffrey E. Stern

 

 

 

 

No word of a lie, but at around the 45 minute mark of my screening of Clint Eastwood’s THE I5:17 TO PARIS I turned to my friend and depressingly said, “This movie feels like THE ROOM, but with a vastly larger budget and an Oscar winning director at the helm.”  

That's ultimately telling and sad, seeing that I had no idea that an 87-year-old industry veteran that has directed films for a better part of five decades was capable of making something as soul crushingly dull and frequently amateurish such as this.   

What's even more shameful is that THE 15:17 TO PARIS is a most noble minded endeavor that tries to chronicle a very recent real life story of heroism.  It reminds us that during moments of indescribable adversity that everyday people are capable of remarkable gallantry.  One of the main issues with this film, though, is that Eastwood makes the cardinal blunder of not casting actors, but the actual real life heroes to play themselves, which often sticks out throughout the film like a proverbial sore thumb.  That, and THE 15:17 TO PARIS' whole build up to its moment in question is so clumsily executed and aimlessly written that, at just a scant 90-plus minutes, the resulting film feels like it's three times longer than it is.  I've never checked my watch and audibly sighed more during a Eastwood film than I did with this one; its opening two thirds it's like a cure for insomnia.   

 

 

But what of the heroic event, you may ask?  Well, that moment in the film does work, but it happens so fleetingly and only occupies roughly ten minutes of the entire running time, leaving Eastwood and company mightily struggling to find ways to fill in the gaps and make a would-be compelling narrative building up to it.  Here's what you need to know: Back in August of 2015 a terrorist on board a Paris bound train smuggled on an assault riffle and other weapons and threatened the lives of all passengers.  Three traveling American men in their twenties - Airman First Class Spencer Stone, Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and college student Anthony Sadler (all friends since childhood) - subdued and stopped the Moroccan for murdering everyone.  A few other would-be heroes tried to wrestle the assailant down, with one unfortunately being shot in the neck with a pistol.  Stone managed to tackle the terrorist and put him to sleep with a choke hold, but was severely lacerated by the assailant repeatedly stabbing at him with a knife.  Eventually, Stone's two BFFs - as well as a 62-year-old British businessman living in France - managed to beat the terrorist down into unconsciousness.  The four men were deemed heroes by the international community and were all granted the Legion of Honor, France's highest decoration. 

Now, this story is indeed astounding and should have been a relative win-win for Eastwood, seeing as he previously made another reality based film steeped in the courageous actions of an ordinary citizen in SULLY.  Imagine, though, how that film would have been like without, say, Tom Hanks quarterbacking it and instead having Eastwood employ the real Chesley Sullenberger in re-telling 2009's Miracle on the Hudson.  I hope this illustrates just how precisely wrongheaded it was to cast Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos as themselves.  Yes, they have no formal acting training - which, as mentioned, is painfully evident - and the dramatic phoniness that permeates the film as a direct result is hard to shake.  THE 15:17 TO PARIS is hardly the first film to use non-actors and/or non-actors playing themselves in their own story (see ACT OF VALOR), and I certainly understand Eastwood's basic motive here to aim for as much verisimilitude as possible.  Yet, with horrendously wooden line readings, a lack of dramatic urgency, and a weird and ironic lack of on-screen chemistry, the presence of the three men here is something that becomes increasingly hard to take as the film progresses.  Simply put, it's a creative stunt that simply doesn't pay off. 

I'm not trying to pinpoint these poor souls as the main source of blame for the glaring issues that I had with THE 15:17 TO PARIS; it's not their fault they can't act.  No, it represents a startling inability on Eastwood's part to craft some semblance of a cinema verite in the proceedings.  The movie is on very shaky ground right from the beginning stages without the three men as we're dealt with an rather odd flashback structure (strangely interweaved throughout the plot) that shows the trio growing up together as children attending a staunchly religious Christian school.  The boys, as boys oftentimes do, get into frequent trouble with teachers and the principal, which culminates in a bizarre and almost unwatchable scene featuring Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer appearing as Skarlatos and Stone's respective mothers.  A stern teacher informs them that Stone may have ADHD while callously spiting them both as single mothers without purpose.  Realizing that she's not getting through to them, the disgruntled teacher tries to relay stats to the mothers, which leads to one of them - as they angrily walk out on her - lashing back "My God is bigger than your statistics."  It's one of the most cringe worthy scenes that I've seen in quite some time. 

The film's off-putting lethargy doesn't end there.  God and spirituality, initially at least, seems like important components to the story, and the boys pray here and there and the mothers bring up the almighty from time to time, but Eastwood seems reticent to follow through on the film's Christian leanings.  That, and when the story flashes forward to the present and we see the adult Skarlatos appear on screen with his mother in Fisher there's virtually no attempt whatsoever to age her to make her physically appear like his actual mother.  Fisher seems credible playing his mother when he was 12 in flashbacks, but watching her exchange dialogue with Skarlatos looking as young as she did in previous scenes is beyond laughable.  Perhaps the worst sections of THE 15:17 TO PARIS involves the trio of adult friends backpacking through Europe and showing them doing things of the most mundane, like ordering gelato, talking multiple selfies, meeting a cute fellow tourist that serves as their guide in Germany (whom then disappears without notice, never to be heard from again), and getting hammered in parties during their journeys from Rome and Venice and to Berlin and Amsterdam.  Watching this eye rollingly tedious middle section of the film makes THE 15:17 TO PARIS look like it was directed by Tommy Wiseau: the staging, camera setups, and editing is shockingly pedestrian.   

I'd love to tell you all that Eastwood redeems his film with his fairly intense and well orchestrated recreation of the All-American boys stopping that terrorist (it's undeniably gripping), but it occupies so little of THE 15:17 TO PARIS that it utterly fails to makes us forget about all of the aforementioned creative indiscretions.  Make no mistake about it: Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler were unfathomably brave on board that train and the way they selflessly hurtled themselves into an extremely dangerous set of circumstances that could have led to their deaths is worthy of exploration in film...and should be celebrated.  Having said that, it makes THE 15:17 TO PARIS all the more unendurable to sit through.  I felt bad for the men here.  They deserve better.  Maybe Eastwood should have opted for a TOUCHING THE VOID treatment here, with the real life subjects reflecting about their incident in interview segments that's interspersed with recreations of the event with them.  Now that could have been special and made for a thoroughly absorbing documentary.  Instead, THE 15:17 TO PARIS - while in an honest effort to pay tribute to heroes - feels like an messy and expensive series of home videos about the heroes.  Eastwood is unquestionably one of our greatest living directors, but I never thought he was capable of making a movie this unforgivably awful. 

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