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The 15:17 to Paris (2018)

DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood

CAST: Spencer Stone, Alec Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler


I’ll get the obligatory disclaimer out of the way right up front: it goes without saying to any reasonable person that of course what Spencer Stone, Alec Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler did on the 15:17 train to Paris in August 2015 is commendable.  That doesn’t mean it needed a movie.  Or at least definitely not this movie.  Veteran actor-director Clint Eastwood, whose right-wing propagandistic “rah rah” tendencies have increasingly permeated both his offscreen persona and his cinematic output in recent years, has churned out an amateurishly stilted, narratively meandering, and often frankly interminably boring misfired attempt at a tribute to the real-life heroes, counting not least among its various flaws the stunt casting of the (non-actor) heroes as themselves.

With periodic “present day” glimpses of the key train incident, we skip back through the otherwise humdrum life stories of Spencer Stone, Alec Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, childhood fast friends who stay in touch through their young adulthoods which see Stone going through basic training and Skarlatos already serving in Afghanistan (the movie isn’t as interested in whatever it is that Sadler does for a living).  On a rare leave, the two military members of the trio drag Sadler along for a trek across Europe, which finally (at long last) drags itself onto the inevitable train ride where the three men—with assists from several other passengers—subdue a heavily-armed would-be terrorist and prevent a potential massacre.

It’s unsurprising that Dorothy Blyskal is a first-time screenwriter.  Her script, based on a memoir the three men wrote with journalist Jeffrey E. Stern, is amateurishly ham-handed, has no sense of narrative drive, and delivers dialogue and conversations in as stilted fashion as possible (granted, the three leads’ amateurish performances don’t help, but their dialogue is banal to begin with).  The actual incident itself—handled with docudrama immediacy in pretty much the only all-too-brief section of the movie that shows a pulse—occupies a thin sliver of the runtime (an hour and a half which feels interminably longer) and Eastwood and Blyskal are unable to mask the fact that there’s not enough story to fill a whole movie.  Instead, we follow the guys wandering around on an interminably protracted travelogue of their European vacation that feels more dragged-out than Frodo’s journey to Mordor in The Lord of the Rings and feels the need to stupefyingly show us every uninteresting step.  Here they are on a ferry ride.  Here they are taking an endless series of selfies.  Here they are ordering beer.  Here they are displaying stereotypical America-centric cluelessness of WWII history to a German tour guide.  Here they are having incredibly banal conversations while wandering around the Colosseum.  These scenes are as lifeless as can be, yet Eastwood and Blyskal feel no need to skim through and give us the highlights (if there are any).

Even more obnoxiously, Blyskal’s script repetitively tacks on ham-handed foreshadowing about life/God steering the men toward “something” that’s so clumsily shoehorned it’s more successful at generating eye-rolls than dramatic effect, and engages in preachy drivel; “My God is bigger than your statistics!” one of the boys’ mothers rather nonsensically shouts at a teacher who recommends medicating them for ADD (she promptly switches him to a Christian school).  Spencer’s repeated long-winded prayers to be a “vessel of peace” also ring a tad ironic given the boys’ lifelong glorification of war and their arsenals of very realistic-looking toy guns.  Especially in but not limited to the earlier school days scenes, the levels of preachiness combined with amateurish acting could lead one to suspect they accidentally wandered into the last installment of God’s Not Dead.  And it doesn’t help the “rah rah ‘Merica” overtones that Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler were not alone in their efforts on the train that day.  An unidentified Frenchman was first to confront the shooter, Mark Magoolian, an American academic living in Paris, actually disarmed him, and a British man, Chris Norman, helped subdue him.  In fairness, Magoolian and Norman, and Magoolian’s wife Isabelle Risacher, also appear here as themselves, but the movie doesn’t follow any of their life stories aside from their roles on the train.  Apparently Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler are more “special”, although according to all we see of them in the movie itself…they’re not.  They’re not interesting, and Eastwood’s woefully misjudged gimmick of casting them with themselves backfires.  It’s hard to be too rough on the men themselves, considering they’re not actors in the first place, but it doesn’t spare us from enduring their wooden and amateurish reenactments (yes it is possible to fail at playing yourself).  The kid versions of them are played by William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar, and Paul-Mikel Williams with no more evident acting ability.  Some more-or-less recognizable faces of actual experienced actors pop up in supporting roles (Judy Greer again typecast as a generic Mom, Jenna Fischer, Thomas Lennon), but it’s not enough to salvage anything.

I might be heaping too much scorn on The 15:17 to Paris, but in truth its sanctimonious overtones leave a worse aftertaste than its simple amateurishness.  It’s a clumsy piece of propaganda piggybacking on a few men’s averting of a potential tragedy that, alas, while surely commendable, didn’t need this movie treatment.

* 1/2