Mark Reviews Movies

The 15:17 to Paris


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar, Paul-Mikél Williams, Thomas Lennon, Tony Hales, Jaleel White, Mark Moogalian, Ray Corasani

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 2/9/18

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 8, 2018

How do you mess up this story so spectacularly? Nominally, The 15:17 to Paris is about the prevented terrorist attack on a high-speed train from Brussels to Paris on August 21, 2015. This was international news for a while, particularly for the display of heroism by seven of the passengers, who either directly confronted or helped to subdue the gunman. Three of those men were American citizens, and two of them were serving in the military at the time. Those three men play themselves here, in what amounts to director Clint Eastwood showing his appreciation and admiration by giving them a studio-paid tour of Europe.

It would be unfair to say that nothing happens in the movie, because, obviously, it does eventually focus on the attack and it features an attempt to provide a narrative of the men's lives before they ended up on that train. It would be fair, though, to say that the movie provides nothing of substance.

It makes little to no attempt to help us understand these men, to give us an impression of why their stories are inherently more worthwhile than those of the other heroes on the train, or to create an aura of tension within the relative mundaneness of their lives before the attack. There's barely a narrative within the screenplay by Dorothy Blyskal, which goes from the heroes' childhood to the years, weeks, and days before the attack, occasionally reminding us that these characters are on an unstoppable path toward history.

The point, it seems, is how utterly normal and dull their lives were before the attack. We first meet Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler (all playing themselves as adults) in a car, with Anthony providing some narration about their friendship (a device that's abandoned immediately, making the introduction even stranger in retrospect). As kids, the young Spencer (William Jennings), Alek (Bryce Gheisar), and Anthony (Paul-Mikél Williams) meet at a Christian school outside Sacramento (populated by a distracting cast of comedic actors), where they routinely get into trouble and play war in the woods with airsoft guns.

They're separated by circumstances but remain friends. Spencer and Alek join the military, while Anthony continues his college studies. Their plan is to take a backpacking tour of Europe while Spencer and Alek are on leave.

We learn the most about Spencer, who has no aspirations until he spots a military recruiting van across the street from his work. Joining the Air Force gives him some much-needed discipline, and he's convinced that his life is building up to something of worth. We learn less about Alek, who joins the Army National Guard and is deployed in Afghanistan before the trip to Europe. Anthony is basically along for the ride in the movie's point of view. We even get multiple scenes of the mothers of Spencer and Alek (played by the oddly ageless Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer, respectively), but Anthony's parents aren't even mentioned until we see them at the end of the movie.

We're along for the ride, too, and the ride is a seemingly endless series of scenes of Spencer and Anthony touring Rome and Venice on their own, Alek visiting Berlin with a friend, and the trio having the most anticlimactic reunion in Amsterdam (Spencer and Anthony go to a club, and Alek is just there, met with indifference by his buddies). These scenes go on and on, as the guys visit famous landmarks, repeatedly order food and drinks (Eastwood makes sure we see the entire process of these orders), regularly talk about what they're doing in the moment or what they're planning to do in the immediate future, and occasionally talk about fate.

The point, it seems, is that nothing particularly special happened in the lives of these men until that train ride. They were ordinary guys, doing ordinary things and occasionally getting into trouble or making mistakes. When it really mattered, though, they were able to do something worthwhile. It's such an obvious point that it's almost astounding how Blyskal (working from the book by the three men and Jeffrey E. Stern) and Eastwood lose the forest of the movie's central theme for the trees of just watching these men wander around European cities for no particular reason.

The attack itself is recreated with immediacy and intensity (One genuinely wonders if Eastwood has lost his touch until then), but by that point, it's almost an afterthought. The 15:17 to Paris is so rambling and unfocused in its telling of this story that, shockingly, we even start to wonder if there's any reason to tell it.

Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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