Review: Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris Really Surprises

Spencer Stone, left, and Alek Skarlatos in The 15:17 to Paris (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Spencer Stone, left, and Alek Skarlatos in The 15:17 to Paris (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Clint Eastwood, in his decades as a director, has always been known as a model of efficiency. He works reliably with the same crew, shoots very few takes, and gets everyone on set home in time for dinner. Time is not wasted on a set of a Clint Eastwood movie, and that sense of efficiency comes across in his films, which whether they are classics like Unforgiven or solid efforts like last year’s Sully. The curious aspect of The 15:17 to Paris is that it continues Eastwood’s focus on brief events and spins them out into feature length. Chesley Sullenberger’s successful landing on the Potomac and the rescue of the passengers happened very quickly, but the foiled terrorist attack on the Paris train was even shorter, finished only in moments.

Along with his efficiency in filming, another hallmark of an Eastwood film is his reputation as a classical filmmaker. Eastwood is no innovator, and modern production values aside, most of his films adhere to the model of men like John Ford or Howard Hawks. His genres are traditional, he never resorts to narrative tricks, and he relies on big stars to do his bidding. It is here that The 15:17 to Paris really surprises, since instead of relying on actual stars to play the three Americans who foiled the terrorist attack, he cast Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, who were actually responsible for that act of heroism. If the reward for saving a train full of people from a terrorist attack is a starring role in a Clint Eastwood movie, so be it. If non-professional actors must get roles over professional ones, better it be actual heroes than reality stars or pop sensations.

The relief of The 15:17 to Paris is that all three men acquit themselves well enough. Eastwood doesn’t ask them to do anything that would stretch them too much, and they’re appealing enough presences that any amateur moments don’t really grate. Other than the re-creation of their heroism that is the obvious draw of the movie, the best moments of the film are the ones when they just hang out in Europe just as they must have done on that fateful trip. Other than some on-the-nose moments about how their lives are leading to something, Eastwood portrays them as refreshingly normal young guys who drink too much at clubs, marvel over differences between American and European Coke bottles, and take too much pleasure over selfie sticks.

And yet, the unavoidable fact of The 15:17 to Paris is that Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler took down the terrorist in a few moments, and their regular guy personas aren’t quite enough to sustain a feature film. The movie has to go against the Eastwood ethos and pad out the material with flashbacks to their childhoods when they meet in middle school, do normal kid stuff and set up their friendship. Much of this early portion of the film seems designed primarily to push the buttons of the red state audience to which this is aimed. Eastwood is quite clearly a conservative and his movies reflect that, but rarely so overtly. The 15:17 to Paris constantly reminds its viewers that this is a movie for people who like guns, Jesus and the U.S. Armed Forces. It’s all a bit too much in these early scenes, and it is surprisingly a relief when the movie shifts from the professionals who play the boys and their families to the non-professional cast. This should not be considered an insult to Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer, the most famous actors in the cast, who attempt to make the most of largely unnecessary roles.

The 15:17 to Paris might not rank alongside Eastwood’s classics, but the man still best known as Dirty Harry does his best to stretch out material without it reaching its breaking point. It may not be a great movie, but as a great way to thank Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, it serves its purpose.
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The 15:17 to Paris
Warner Bros. Pictures
Now in theaters

3 Stars

Films are rated on a scale of 5 stars (must-see), 4 stars (exceptional), 3 stars (solid), 2 stars (average) and 1 star (unworthy).

Jeremy Ross is a Staff Reporter for Living Out Loud - LA, covering entertainment.

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