No Reason To Board - The 15:17 To Paris
It is getting harder to remember, but once upon a time, Clint Eastwood was one of the very best filmmakers working. He had a style all his own, an ability to make an emotional impact and even when he was being preachy, it was in service of a worthwhile message. These days, however, Eastwood seems fixated on telling stories that don't justify their own existence. Eastwood is making a habit of taking events that took just a few minutes and stretching them into feature length films. He achieves this by showing the event over and over and filling the runtime with backstory that only loosely relates. The result is a final product that lacks teeth, purpose and ultimately, entertainment value. The 15:17 to Paris represents the very worst of this habit, coupled with production values that feel more like the efforts of a high school drama class than a four-time Oscar winner. The end result is the definition of head-scratcher.
The film follows three friends: Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos (each playing himself). The trio attend a Christian school together in their adolescence and grow close to one another as the troublemakers of the school. Over years, they keep in touch and continue to get into trouble on and off. When Spencer Stone decides to enlist in the military, everyone around him doubts his resolve. When he finally proves them wrong, it still turns out to be something of a challenge as he is disqualified from the job he wants and still manages to face disciplinary issues once enlisted.
One day, Stone decides to backpack through Europe with his two old friends. The film follows their drunken, but relatively tame adventures. All is going according to plan until they board a train to Paris and come face-to-face with a gun-wielding terrorist. Stone and his friends must act quickly to save the lives of the other people on the train. Because this is a true story, they are obviously successful, but the winding road Eastwood takes to get to the somewhat dramatic conclusion is what could not have been predicted.
The choice to allow these men to portray themselves is an interesting one. It lends an authenticity and sincerity to the project that works on a certain level. However, it seems as if Eastwood allowed this choice to dampen the quality of every aspect of the film. The performances by the professional actors that surround them are nearly as bad as theirs and the screenplay is a comically bad amalgamation of clichés and forced tropes. It is hard to imagine anyone thinking this is "smart," but there is a certain slack-jawed earnestness that at least keeps it from being offensive. This movie really believes in its Christian values and everyman ethos. The problem is that none of this is the least bit entertaining.
The strangest aspect of the film is that the backstory we spend so much time on is not only not entertaining, it also doesn't reveal very much that is relevant to the incident. I kept expecting some sort of M. Night Shyamalan-style conclusion that would bring back these otherwise random backstory elements. But when the credits roll, we are seemingly left with no such closure; just a haphazard set of events and people that happen to have culminated in a flash of heroism. For my money, this warrants a few dozen lines of newspaper print, not 94 mins. of Hollywood myth-making.
At one point in the film, a character says to another, "everyone has a story to tell and it is our duty to tell it." I think this is the most succinct explanation for what is wrong with Eastwood's approach to filmmaking these days. If you think that is true, you will invariably wind up telling stories like this. You will reach deep into stories that aren't that compelling instead of scanning more broadly to find stories with the goods. Thankfully, not every filmmaker is doing this, but it is a shame that one of our seemingly most talented is.
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