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Review: The 15:17 To Paris

by Eric Blume

Has Clint Eastwood lost his mind?  That’s the thought that swirled through my mind for the first hour of 15:17 To Paris, because every choice is so shockingly wrong-headed that it feels unfathomable. Say what you will about Eastwood’s films, but even his detractors would need to admit that his movies are generally well-acted and sure-footed.  I had to stay through the end credits not to see the name of the cinematographer, but to ensure that there actually was one.  In fact, it’s Tom Stern, who has shot most of Eastwood’s films.  Out of respect for these two gentlemen and their intelligent work together in the past, let's assume that on this film they were attempting to take Eastwood’s infamously brisk, limited-takes directorial and shooting style to its ultimate breakneck limit.  Their new film looks uglier and less artful than your average TV procedural...

You know the film’s plot and gimmick:  Eastwood recreates the 2015 Thalys train terrorist attack, and has cast the three real life heroes to play themselves.  This proposition was potentially interesting on paper, but unfortunately the three young men have little screen charisma, and appear both overeager and uncomfortable onscreen.  They’re either trying too hard (the film’s lead, Spencer Stone) or not hard enough (Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos).  We’re not talking about the fact that these men aren’t professional actors who can give us things like subtext, complexity, or characterization. That's a given. We’re talking painful line readings, awkward timing, and clumsy self-awareness. 

Not that Eastwood's direction of his cast helps.  The young actors who play middle-school versions of the three subjects manage to be precocious “movie kids” and there’s not an unstagy, honest moment in any of their scenes.  For some reason Eastwood has cast a group of smart comically gifted actors in small roles (Judy Greer, Tom Lennon, Jenna Fischer, Tony Hale) but then uses none of their natural spark.  Greer and Fischer’s individual scenes where they talk about God* are glorious unintentional howlers (I picture their significant others tormenting them by repeating their lines at home).

The film takes place in three sections:  the “back-story” of the young boys; the European vacation leading up to the train incident; and the attack.  To say that nothing happens in those first two sections, is to be generous.  We learn nothing about the characters, there’s no narrative progression, and no event adds texture.  There’s a full thirty minutes in this movie where the guys go to Rome, Venice, Germany, and Amsterdam and take selfies.  I wish I were making this up.

There’s one moment at the start of the train attack when the terrorist (Ray Corasani) stares into the bathroom mirror before he begins to strap on his weapons.  This actor fills the moment with such intensity, and it’s the first time we feel there’s an actual human being feeling something powerful and real.  It makes you wonder why Eastwood would hire the “actual human beings” who lived this story, and not fill the screen with actors who could convey their true passion.

The film is a particular disappointment after last year’s Sully, which intelligently deconstructed the idea of heroism.  Eastwood worked to produce a skillful performance from Tom Hanks that slowly unlocked the layers of a regular person anointed hero status, but unable to grapple its meaning and purpose.  It’s difficult to believe 15:17 To Paris comes from the heart or mind of the same man.

* I have no problem with people of deep faith and sometimes bemoan their lack of representation.  What I do feel is problematic is how Hollywood often (and certainly here) uses characters who talk about faith and God as shorthand for Fine, Upstanding Americans... instead of actually dramatizing that faith.

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Reader Comments (14)

Eastwood's fetishism of masculinity/hero worship has grown weary, boring and almost bordering on parody at this point.

February 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

DJDeeJay: I know. Speaking of that, can you imagine how much better a Jody Hill version of American Sniper would have been? It probably wouldn't be an Oscar nominee (because Jody Hill would lean HARD into the "this guy was a scumbag" thing), but it'd be a better movie for it.
Eric Blume: I think the big problem is the nature of faith, especially in America, is being poisoned. In three or four generations? Though this might sound bold, would honestly not be surprised if there are more American Atheists than there are American Christians. If that happens, that's going to be...that's going to be very interesting. Because when there are more atheist Americans than Christian Americans...what does the president swear on? It can't really be the Bible at that point. Would it be The Origin of Species? Would it be A Brief History of Time? Would it be his favourite novel, album or video game, so its something different every time? Again, curious.

February 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

@Volvagia - interesting. I'm not as familiar with Hill's work so I can't speak to that, although it looks like he plays with stereotypically male authority figures/heros (security guards, baseball players, etc.) - is that why you thought of him?

February 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

I have not watched a Clint Eastwood movie in quite some time and I'm very happy about that.

February 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

The only thing that I can imagine is that Eastwood was fulfilling some make-a-wish dream for these guys and has no interest in making a good movie - just letting the dudes "BE IN A CLINT EASTWOOD MOVIE!!!!"

My biggest problem is the idea that they didn't cast the the other real people, like, you know, the wives and girlfriends.

February 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterOther Ian

I love Clint Eastwood but I have no interest in seeing this.

February 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

All the criticisms of this make me more intrigued to see it. I wonder if Eastwood is doing a neorealist thing, using non-professionals to highlight the ordinariness of the lives, so as to emphasise the extraordinariness of the attack they were involved in. I'll have to see it to find out. Remember, Paul Greengrass used the real Ben Sliney playing himself in United 93, and it really helped that movie. Not to say that The 15:17 to Paris will be of that quality, but I don't object in principle.

If nothing else, I think that Eastwood has done enough wonderful work over the years to make each of his movies worthy of some attention.

February 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

I'm still curious about it- Eastwood is a very skillful director

February 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I love Eastwood - as a star and director - but he is in his shakiest streak since the early 80's.

February 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

While The 15:17 to Paris was not at the level of American Sniper and Sully, I still enjoyed the film.

February 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAllan

Eric, entertaining and insightful review. Clint is one of the great directors. His filmography is a bit spotty. But by and large, it's pretty damn impressive. And American Sniper and Sully are recent successes. I winced when I heard of the premise of this project, but I do give him props for having the balls to do something like this. He's probably the only director in Hollywood who could get by with trying this. Godspeed.

February 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I refuse to watch any film directed or acted by trump supporters.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

Conservatives are the new punks.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterP. T. Klugman

I congratulate you for your excellent evaluation of another Clint Eastwood classic. I would disagree with you on one small point, the leading picture in this article of Spencer Stone looking directly into the camera is a picture of a great actor. Also, in the interests of making your evaluation more precise, I offer corrections of two typos. In the second last paragraph, change “leaving” to “leading”. In the last paragraph, change “try and hold” to “try to hold”. Is it possible for you to correct these on someone else’s website? movie is now available on Teatv

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMelvin

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