Historical recreations are always a fraught exercise, and for every successful one (like the 2006 masterpiece ‘United 93’), there are a myriad of failures. Clint Eastwood’s ‘The 15:17 to Paris’ is a beast of its own kind. The film focuses on the terrorist attack thwarted by a group of American tourists on a train from Thalys to Paris in August 2015. The event itself is incredibly dramatic, but Eastwood has taken what could have been a relatively straightforward film and spun it into something altogether bizarre by casting the three men - Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos - as themselves, even though they have no acting experience whatsoever. However, this turns out not to be the strangest or most problematic thing about ‘The 15:17 to Paris’, or the reason for it being an almost unwatchable mess.
The film looks at the lives of the three men from childhood right up until the attack, but as with many recent biopics, it makes the mistake of thinking that their story is enough to sustain an entire film, spreading it thin across its 93 minutes. For the most part, the film wanders around drunkenly trying to turn these three heroically ordinary guys into extraordinary anomalies, filling every moment of the past with weight and prescience for what is to come. Their ordinariness might make them the perfect everyday heroes, but it doesn’t make for a watchable film by any stretch, and the problems come from the ground up. Dorothy Blyskal’s screenplay (based on their memoir) is honestly one of the worst screenplays I’ve ever come across. It bumbles through endless clichés, crippling stretches of dull exposition and dialogue that is totally against any natural human cadence or sentence structure. And considering we’re talking about Clint Eastwood here, a director of increasingly decreasing talent, that’s a very bad start.
SWITCH: 'THE 15:17 TO PARIS' TRAILER
Eastwood’s films have been getting progressively worse for a while, not just for their craft but for their politics. ‘The 15:17 to Paris’ ticks every one of his conservative American boxes, with the first act a symphony of references to American military might, guns, God and patriotism, and never in a way that serves the film or the characters well. Anything that opposes these ideas is bad, anyone that opposes these ideals is an antagonist, and any attempt to work against them is seen as a thing to laugh at or rail against. When we talk about American films peddling pro-American propaganda, this is what we’re talking about, and just like in his atrocious ‘Sully’ (2016), this is a story that doesn’t support that, and the historical figures are in no way served well by it. Eastwood’s simplistic politics are becoming more problematic with each film he makes, making his baffling status as “one of our great filmmakers” all the more frustrating.
Very little of the fault though lies with Stone, Sadler or Skarlatos themselves. They do their best they can with the situation, not only having the weight of a major film on their shoulders and being asked to play a gimmick, but having to work through a genuinely traumatic event in their lives for the sake of entertainment. They have a natural charisma (Stone especially) that helps keep them above water, but Blyskal’s woeful screenplay and the vacuum of Eastwood’s direction work against them at almost every turn. Bizarrely, the rest of the cast is made up of actors more associated with comedy (Judy Greer, Jenna Fisher, Tony Hale, P.J. Byrne and Thomas Lennon), which ends up working in the film’s favour because they’re probably the few actors who could deliver such appalling dialogue (“My God is bigger than your statistics”) without laughing.
Their ordinariness might make them the perfect everyday heroes, but it doesn’t make for a watchable film by any stretch...
Frankly, ‘The 15:17 to Paris’ is one of the strangest films I’ve seen in a good while. How it even exists at allis beyond me, other than the fact that Warner Bros seems inclined to let Eastwood do whatever he wants. It could have made a tremendous documentary, but there’s nowhere near enough to warrant a dramatisation. It doesn’t help that the screenplay sounds like someone put the words “America”, “God”, “guns”, “military” and “hero” into an auto-screenplay machine before said machine shat itself, or that it’s directed by the perfect Trump-era filmmaker: an old white man shouting his patriotic bullshit from his front lawn at passers-by. ‘The 15:17 to Paris’ is easily one of Eastwood’s worst, and one of the worst films of the year.
PICTURE & SOUND
That said, it does look pretty good on Blu-ray. It sports a handsome 1080p 2.40:1 transfer that has a cool, crispness to it. Detail is consistently impressive, and while there are moments where the quality shifts depending on the shooting method, this has less to do with the transfer than the source material. It’s complimented by a strong Dolby Atmos track that, while never extraordinary, is well balanced and does the trick.
The bonus material only adds to the frustration of how the film itself does not serve the event at all. ‘The 15:17 to Paris: Making Every Second Count’ (8:11) is constructed from first-hand interviews with the three men, along with fellow survivors Mark and Isabelle Risacher Moogalian, intercut with footage from the film, and what strikes you from the beginning is how much more arresting they all are using their own words and without the pressures of acting. They recount the events with clarity, energy and even humour, and all three of these men come across as far more relatable and human. It just proves how much more effective this could have been as a documentary, especially with them telling their story themselves. ‘The 15:17 to Paris: Portrait of Courage’ (12:27) gives a cursory look at the making of the film, but spends more time talking about how great Eastwood is, though the degree to which they aimed for historical accuracy by shooting on the same train and on the same line is fascinating.