Clint Eastwood’s latest, The 15:17 to Paris, tells the true story of three Americans who prevented a potentially disastrous terrorist attack on the eponymous train to Paris in 2015. Not only does Eastwood tell this story, but he casts the three men to play themselves.
This is a lot to ask, having three non-actors carry the dramatic heft of a movie, but the three men (Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos) do a valiant job of it. They stumble in moments where a casual naturalism is required, but when it comes to the dramatic moments, particularly Stone when reenacting his military training, they do a better job than some of the professional actors in the film.
This obvious obstacle is avoided (although the film doesn’t escape unscathed when it leans on a trio of child actors in the first act). What sinks this film is not the three heroes; it is Eastwood’s framing of their heroic act. The incident on the train to Paris is used throughout the film as a framing device, as opposed to the impetus of the action.
Don’t misunderstand. Not to diminish the heroism of the true story, but there is not enough here, as it is executed, to constitute a feature film. What Eastwood attempts here is to give the three men, particularly Stone, a synoptic biopic treatment. This isn’t a problematic framing, in theory. The pursuit to highlight the humanity behind the news piece is a noble one, but here it is misguided.
This is because most of the film is bland, not only in terms of its conventional narrative progression, but also in terms of how it is filmed. There is little of interest to see leading up to the climax on the train.
The climax itself is easily the most cinematic sequence in the film. It is what the trailer highlights, because it has shots that are dynamic and compelling. Aside from one Rocky-style montage early in the film, there are no shots like this prior to the final sequence.
The climax is visceral and intense and genuinely compelling. At least, it would be compelling if every aspect of it hadn’t been set up in an utterly contrived manner earlier in the film via dangling causes. Scenes that depict Stone’s training—scenes that don’t serve any purpose other than setting up actions in the climax—mar what makes the climax exciting.
As much as one can applaud Eastwood for taking on a depiction of heroism in a different way, the end result never reads all that novel. The 15:17 to Paris lacks a forward momentum that justifies the wait to the final sequence, and even that final sequence is squandered by what comes before. What is left when you do this math is a low sum.
The 15:17 to Paris: C-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)