THE 15:17 TO PARIS: Making a movie about three young Americans (Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone) who foiled a terrorist attack aboard a “bullet” train traveling through the French countryside in August 2015 is an excellent idea. Casting the real-life heroes to play themselves? Not so much. It’s possible that director/producer Clint Eastwood (See CLOSING CREDITS.) may have taken his cue from ACT OF VALOR (2012) where actual Navy SEALs played key leading roles. As imminently forgettable as that effort was, this one makes you positively want to induce amnesia. Although it’s obvious that, as actors, all three of the leads are rank amateurs, they’re far from being the sole reason this movie is so far off the tracks (Pun intended.). I’ll start with the backstory of their adolescent friendship at a Christian school where nearly all the administrators and teachers are depicted as either clueless or just plain “tools”. Dorothy Blyshal’s screenplay is filled with the kind of verbal interchange not spoken by any teenagers in America in the 21st century. Eventually, the narrative winds up spending far more time around Stone and his life and setbacks in the Air Force before he reunites with Sadler in Italy where, like the script, they just meander around aimlessly while ruminating about “serving a higher purpose” before heading to Amsterdam to get…well, you know. The attack itself is the showcase of the film and it’s crisply edited and well-directed making it the only real highlight in a work whose humor is occasionally unintentional. Along the same lines, I found the prayer scenes and all references to God in the movie as cringe-inducing as Eastwood’s bizarre dialogue with the empty chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention. And yes, I AM a believer. Having said all this, I praise the bravery, courage and heroism of the three young men whose action prevented a potential bloodbath. They deserved much better than the slipshod result of the cinematic treatment they got. If good intentions were enough to merit praise for a movie, this one would have more than its share. But they don’t and it doesn’t.
CRITIC’S GRADE: D
CLOSING CREDITS: Here are some way better films directed by Clint Eastwood – PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971), HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973), THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976), BRONCO BILLY (1980), HEARTBREAK RIDGE (1986), WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART (1990), UNFORGIVEN (1992)*, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (1995), TRUE CRIME (1999), MYSTIC RIVER (2003)**, MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004)*, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (2006), LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2006)**, CHANGELING (2008), GRAN TORINO (2008), INVICTUS (2009), AMERICAN SNIPER (2014)**, SULLY (2016)
*Academy Award Winner for Best Director and Best Picture
**Academy Award Nomination for Best Director and Best Picture
***Academy Award Nomination for Best Picture