Review: The 15:17 to Paris
To say that Clint Eastwood’s latest, The 15:17 to Paris, is 'inconsistent' is about the same as saying that water is wet or that the sun is bright. This film should be placed in dictionaries next to that word’s definition. It should be shown in film schools to illustrate that sometimes, having good and bad parts in a film can lead to way greater disappointment than a movie that is entirely one or the other.
That being said, let’s be real: The 15:17 to Paris is mostly dreadful. The first hour, which is almost entirely in flashback mode where our main trio (Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos) are children, is utter torture for anyone who, you know, enjoys film. The script is painfully written, full of heavy-handed lines and moments that are so blatantly shoehorned into the story to appeal more to a right-leaning audience, like a mother’s random exclamations about the greatness of God, and completely unhinged overreactions at a teacher who dares to suggest they at least entertain the idea that their children might have ADD and maybe, just maybe, might benefit from medication. It’s a formulaic manipulation, made to quickly win over a certain type of audience and thoroughly disgust everyone else. (At this, it definitely succeeds; my theater in the deep south burst into applause when the film ended).
Appealing to a certain audience is one thing. It’s really not bad to be aware of what kind of people will watch your movie and tailoring it to them. It’s a totally different monster to make blatant propaganda, which this film absolutely is. Try to keep your popcorn down through the scene where a group of middle school boys idealize about the “brotherhood” of war and fantasize about the glory of it all. And don’t even get me started on the scene where one of these baby-faced children shows off his airsoft gun collection, listing off each gun type before finally revealing his actual, real shotgun that is kept unguarded and unlocked in the bottom of the closet of, I reiterate, a thirteen-year-old boy who’s being bullied at school and kinda seems like he could break under the pressure of his life at any moment. In any other movie that’s actually aware of the current climate in America - this is the setup of a future villain, not the character you’re supposed to root for the whole time. The setup of these characters is one of the most tone-deaf things imaginable, and none of it is entertaining in the slightest.
It sure doesn’t help that this portion of the film is performed like Eastwood is off-camera holding a gun to each actor’s head, ready to fire if any one of them tries to brush up this steaming turd of a script at all. Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer give the worst performances of their career by far, and all the teachers are played as if they believe all children are evil demons sent to ruin their lives. It’s beyond unacceptable that the part of this film that should’ve been way more solid is nearly unwatchable and that these trained actors are completely wasted in every way.
But okay, I’m sure y’all get that the first chunk of this thing is putrid by now. I’m beating a dead horse. So, how’s the half where the actual guys play themselves? Surely if the part with real actors is one of the worst things ever, the second half’s gotta be worse, right?
Nope. Not at all.
The section of this film that focuses on the actual men is kind of fascinating. The guys aren’t great when they’re separated, clearly uncomfortable and awkward in front of cameras and crews, but once they’re together on screen, things start to make sense. You see why Eastwood thought he should put the real men together, as he clearly lets them go and improvise the kinds of things they did on this trip together. Things feel pretty realistic and natural as they run around together, even if it is a little drawn out.
Once we finally get to the titular train ride, everything does click into place. The re-enaction is immaculate and engaging in a way nothing before it had been. The emotions are intense, and the action is visceral and real. The movie becomes really, really good for the first time, but then it fades all too quickly as a bunch of unnecessary filler wraps everything up.
The 15:17 to Paris is an unmitigated disaster of a movie, the kind of film that could only possibly have been made by a bunch of people with completely unchecked power. If Clint Eastwood was a younger director, trying to break into the business with a couple small successes under his belt, this film would be a career-ender. One can only hope that Eastwood will learn from this bizarre experiment and improve from this, but that seems pretty damn unlikely.