One of the few things that’s absolutely clear in The 15:17 to Paris, the latest in Clint Eastwood’s unofficial “heroes of the headlines” series after American Sniper and Sully, is that the director has a deep admiration for his film’s subjects. And rightfully so. On Aug. 21, 2015, three Americans — Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler — helped foil a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train. They exemplify the kind of men Eastwood’s always endorsed in his movies: brave, selfless, and capable.
What’s less clear is why Eastwood felt compelled to tell the story in this way: Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler play themselves, from rebellious yet well-intentioned youths to international heroes. The three are cast in the mold of the men Eastwood has profiled as of late. Even as boys, all three are rebellious but never actually in the wrong. They like guns and girls, and authority figures like the teachers at their Catholic school are just out to get them.
There’s a thematic thread from Sully that continues in 15:17. Much like the uppity jerks at the NTSB who dare to investigate whether Sully needed to land in the Hudson, Stone and Skarlatos’ grade school teacher has the gall to suspect the boys have ADD — because they’re distracted and behind on their reading — and suggest medication. “My God is bigger than your statistics!” one of their mothers cries after accusing the teacher of pushing drugs on the kids to make her job easier. The film doesn’t treat that as an overreaction, and while it’s never connected to the main plot, it exemplifies Eastwood’s distrust of any authority figure — apart from God.
The entire script is replete with dialogue just as clunky and unsubtle, doing no favors for the inexperienced actors. The performances paint the story with a phoniness that’s as ironic as it is distracting. Eastwood seems to be reaching for some level of realism, but when every single interaction feels like half-coded AI tried to recreate bro talk, it’s clear that a mistake has been made.
More than three-quarters of 15:17 is lead-up to the train attack, which is at least thrillingly shot and edited. Outside of that short sequence, the rest is filler, with Eastwood occasionally dipping heavy-handedly into his ideas of American principles: distrust of authority figures, “boys will be boys” dismissiveness, and Christianity.
Much like Sully, there’s not enough meat on the bone for a feature. (The padding has padding.) And like American Sniper, it shows little interest in finding a deeper meaning in its characters, their actions, and their country. D