Film Reviews

15:17 TO PARIS

By • Feb 8th, 2018 •

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Review proof. Padded story with an inoffensive screenplay, stunt casting and, dare I say it, boring.

If you do not easily recognize the heroic story of three Americans who stopped a terrorist on a Paris-bound train in 2015, it is because, as Gertrude Stein wrote of Oakland, “there is no there there.” The exciting part of 15:17 TO PARIS is the quick action of the Americans. Everything else is padded, Introduction to Screenwriting 101.

The heroic trio is comprised of Anthony Sadler, Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone. Stone is the more prominent of the trio and most of the film pivots around him.

Director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal never even attempt to give us a complete story. Who was the guy with 300 rounds of ammunition? What did he want, why that train and did he have accomplices waiting at the next train station? How long did the entire siege take?

Who was the fourth man given the Legion of Honor medal by the French president?

Clearly, he was acknowledged as the fourth man in the drama. But who was he?

Did the three Americans really arrive at the Palais de l’Élysée, the residence of the president of France, for the award giving ceremony in T-shirts and jeans?

Did hero Stone actually run straight towards the terrorist who had a AK47 aimed right at him? The AK47 jammed? What are the odds on that happening? We must remember that terrorists fully expect to die as martyrs. Was the terrorist acting alone? Did he have back-up in any of the cars?
What about the man who was the first to wrestle the machine gun out of the terrorist’s hand? He was the first person shot and almost lost his life. Why wasn’t his backstory told?

The train had 554 passengers aboard. There was no shouting and screaming? Everyone was completely well-behaved?
Instead of showing the passengers lives right before getting on the train and the ramifications of that (and the need for a bigger budget, time and sets), Eastwood chose a far simpler route. He filled in his 94 minutes by focusing on the three heroes as children. Two of them lived with one parent, mothers played by Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer.

Deciding that 15:17 TO PARIS was really the story of three ordinary guys, Eastwood chose to present their story in the most ordinary, soul-less way possible. Was Eastwood sitting in a lounge chair somewhere sending directions to his loyal, frequent crew – cinematographer Tom Stern, costume designer Deborah Hopper, editor Blu Murray, composer Christian Jacob and art director Kevin Ishioka?

That Eastwood decided to give the roles of the trio to the actual men themselves is stunt casting – however, they are young, good looking and sincere. But when did “sincere” become acting?

Eastwood and Blyskal (who based the screenplay on the book authored by the three participants along with Jeffrey E. Stern) had to give the guys a backstory to fill in the feature-length time factor. Not having a hall pass in grade school is not drama or a signal about what kind of heroism will rise 20 years later. If there was anything that needed to be sanitized, it was cleansed from the film. There you have it.

With the exception of Stone (he was a chubby kid and had an arsonal of weapons), I know next to nothing about the other two guys.

Two of the guys were trained in the military. Strong, robust and fueled with a young man’s need for battle-style aggression, their instinct was an unconscious programmed reaction. (As a primary directive of evolution, these guys should have acted impulsively after successfully mating.)

Debating that would, of course, bring up the “survival” instinct.

Not to like 15:17 TO PARIS is unpatriotic. These guys deserve a movie to be made about how they saved the lives of 554 people. Their actions must be recognized so we all remember to do the same thing when called upon.

As Eastwood found out with his mega-hit SULLY (reported budget $60 million. Box Office $240.8 million), the template works. Crafting a modestly budgeted movie about ordinary, nothing special people thrust into extraordinary circumstances and showing heroism means a big box office hit. The days of gritty roles and provocative films is the fare of younger directors.

Eastwood has followed The Robert De Niro Career Path: Do great stuff to be recognized as an icon, then in your later years demand short shooting days, a hefty payday, limited dialogue to memorize and no unreasonable heavy lifting.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.
Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

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