Clint Eastwood has changed the course of his career in recent years. He has stepped out of the spotlight and shifted to roles behind the camera, in particular producing and directing. He has put out some fantastic work (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino – in both of which he still had starring roles) and some creative and artistic disasters (American Sniper, one of the worst films to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars). One common theme in his recent work has been the military, as he almost always features current or former veterans as the main characters in his stories.
In the case of The 15:17 to Paris, he takes that idea one step further, actually casting the veterans in question as themselves in the film. Air Force vet Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their childhood friend Anthony Sadler assume the roles of themselves as they play out actual events leading up to and including the day that they fund themselves confronted by a terrorist on a commuter train in Europe. As I watched the film, one question kept repeating itself in my head: How did this get made?
I want to state up front that the act of heroism portrayed in the film and that also occurred in real life is just that: an extraordinary moment of selfless bravery. Understand that this review is not a review of the real-life event or the three guys as people. This is a review of the film based on their memoir. The real-life act was tremendous. The film is atrocious. I haven’t hated a film this much since The Neon Demon. Going in, I thought to myself that this movie would at least be better than American Sniper, even with that film’s unclear message, selective representation of Chris Kyle, and laughable fake baby. But this was worse. It was so much worse. At least Sniper still had Bradley Cooper’s excellent performance to brag about. The 15:17 to Paris has nothing.
Okay, look, I can appreciate the thought behind casting the three real guys as themselves in the film. But they aren’t actors. And it shows. Truthfully, their performances weren’t as bad as I was afraid they might be, but they were still very bad. Wooden delivery, monotone voices, and a vocal decibel level that always hovered just below a moderate shout permeated all three of their performances. They also often spoke too quickly out of nervousness, taking any semblance of authenticity out of their presentation. (But, of course, we all know that Eastwood supports people who are unqualified for their positions, so maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised.) The worst of the three is Spencer, so he naturally becomes the narrative center of the proceedings and receives the most screen time. But, why wouldn’t he? He’s the one most closely associated with the military, so he’s the most laudable of them all in Eastwood’s eyes. Spencer even gets an extra boost when Eastwood fabricates an element of The Big Moment in order to make it seem as though Spencer bravely (stupidly?) charges right at an aimed gun from nearly the length of the train car. This never happened. Nobody else gets phony moments of bravery to falsely elevate their heroism. Only the Air Force guy. (By the way, there was a fourth man who also helped to detain the shooter on the train who gets almost no recognition in the film.)
Despite Eastwood tossing the three leading men to the wolves and putting them way out of their element, I was still happy to see Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer pop up, because I love both of them. They always have a sense of believability, sincerity, and relatability. At least, they always did before The 15:17 to Paris, where they become a pair of unreasonable and delusional mothers who refuse to see their young middle school sons (during some flashbacks) for who they are. The boys’ teacher calls them in to express concern at the boys’ behavior and offer some suggestions to help. Both mothers become indignant, stubbornly refusing to accept the fact that their kids are troublemakers, and then verbally attack the person trying to help them. And this is presented as something to be applauded.
Oh, and those flashbacks never really carry any significance. One challenge facing Eastwood was taking a ten-minute story and stretching it into a 95-minute film. He never overcomes that challenge. Almost the entire film is a flashback before The Big Moment and exactly one scene builds to some sort of payoff during the climax. The rest is just filler. All the time spent showing us the three guys as a-hole middle-schoolers leads exactly nowhere. I thought maybe it was building to them being some sort of representation of toxic masculinity throughout their adulthood, but that didn’t materialize, as they were presented as pretty decent guys, even aside from The Big Moment. By this point in his career, Clint Eastwood should understand that one shouldn’t lay a foundation if they’re planning to build a houseboat.
I wish that was all. I really do. But there’s more. The script is the worst-written tripe I can recall assaulting my ears since I accidentally watched a Fifty Shades trailer. My joy at seeing Fischer and Greer was quickly extinguished as soon as I heard the simple-minded words and “ideas” (a word I use extremely loosely, here) coming out of their mouths. The guys themselves have to spew even more awful verbiage and, to make matters worse, their lack of acting abilities only highlight the absurdity of their speech. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, on a scale of one to ten, this material was only a couple of levels above Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.
I feel like I’ve been pretty clear, here, but let me be direct, just to be sure: I hated every moment of this moviegoing experience. How much do I hate this movie? I once had a dream that I was fighting with The Office‘s Jim and Roy over Jenna Fischer’s Pam character and I’m now glad that she didn’t choose me because I would never want to be permanently connected to this movie – even by marriage in the dream world. The two elderly ladies near me occasionally talked and, for once, I didn’t mind because they had better dialogue. I didn’t have to pay for this movie but Moviepass deserves their money back. I hate this movie.
If you think I’m being unfair, you’re wrong. Simply put, Warner Brothers knew they had a stinker on their hands and that’s clear because they released the film in February. If they thought it was even close to being decent, they would have released it before the end of 2017 because this type of film is usually prime Oscar bait. But they knew. And now, we all know. Clint Eastwood appears to have quit caring about quality and now only puts effort into mobilizing his conservative fan base and getting them to the theaters. Although even they aren’t turning out for this one, as the film is nowhere near making a profit and might not even break even. I would like to think that the Clint Eastwood of old still exists, somewhere, but if this is what we can expect from him for the time being, I might just be waiting on the sidelines and hoping for somebody else to someday tell me that he’s back.
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