The 15:17 To Paris (2018)

CLINT EASTWOOD

Bil’s rating (out of 5): B

USA, 2018. , , , . Screenplay by , based on the book by , , , . Cinematography by . Produced by Clint Eastwood, , , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

An attempt to return to the military milieu that brought him box office glory in American Sniper fails to draw lightning back to the same spot, as Clint Eastwood once again tells a true-life tale of heroism while doubling down on his efforts to be realistic: in 2015, three Americans, two soldiers and one civilian, prevented a massacre on the Thalys Amsterdam-to-Paris train by attacking and subduing a lone gunman carrying 300 rounds of ammunition, and three years later Eastwood brings them back to portray themselves in a film that recreates the event.

The actual inspiration for the story doesn’t have much to offer, plot-wise, and only needs about ten minutes to play out on screen, so Eastwood and screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal, working from Jeffrey Stern’s non-fiction book on the subject, have us get to know these guys and appreciate their relationship leading up to their committing this impressive act of bravery. More importantly, Eastwood, who has gone from liberal Republican to calcified Angry Old Man in his eighties thanks to his abhorrence for what he likely sees as social media moralizing doublespeak, wants us to appreciate that Goodness is not something that can be debated, it can only be proven through actions, and that summarizing a person by their thoughts and ideological affiliations (or, in this case, how well they listen to their teachers when they are kids) has nothing to do with their value to a society of free individuals.

As children, , and become friends thanks to their constantly finding themselves in the principal’s office for mouthing off or wandering the hallways during class, exasperating their mothers (two of them played by and , who never seem sure they know what they’re doing in this movie) who take the kids to task at home but fire off a lot of Jesus speak to narrow stereotypes of teachers presented as hard-edged, pill-pushing fools. As an adult, Stone goes through military training and drives his instructors crazy there as well, ignoring the command to remain under his desk during an Active Shooter lockdown, which is meant to foreshadow his reckless but brave choice to later rush the gunman on the train instead of hiding under his seat like all the other passengers.

Eastwood isn’t wrong to want to record this impressive accomplishment for posterity and to do so without any irony (there’s no commentary about the downsides of sudden fame), and unlike what he did in Sully and, later, in Richard Jewell, avoids the criticism of what he sees as America’s failure to let Good Guys get on with it. What’s shocking here are the technical fails that make this one of his worst directorial efforts and a real dog to sit through, beginning with the ill-advised decision to let the real guys play themselves: sure they’re charming and good-natured, but they’re not actors, and neither the poorly performed re-enactments of their youth (which features some of the worst child acting ever seen dealing with some very painful dialogue), nor the boring montage of their travels through Europe leading up to their fateful train ride, make up for the fact that they are opaque figures that we can never connect with emotionally.

Maybe if these guys worked with a director who insisted on months of Mike Leigh-style workshops and rehearsals they could have broken through their veneer of discomfort in front of the camera, but the director who is famous for getting everything done ahead of schedule and under budget is not likely to pierce that veil. The presence of professionals like Fischer, Greer, and offsets the non-professionals badly, it’s hard to tell who is making whom look worse, and even harder to decide if you want to look away or stay glued to every second of this disaster.

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