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Eastwood's Cinema Verite: The 15:17 to Paris
The 15:17 To Paris tells the story of three friends, and of their noteworthy actions on a train in 2015. Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler star in a recreation of their lives, from their days as classmates at a Sacramento Christian school to their memorable moment when they were on vacation. Even though they went their separate ways following school, they stayed in touch. Once out of school, Spencer and Alek joined the military, Anthony pursued his interests in California. While stationed in Portugal, Stone made arrangements with Skarlatos, assigned to Afghanistan, to travel through Europe. Spencer then contacts Sadler and convinces him to join them for sightseeing and other fun activities. Everything changes when they encounter Ayoub El-Khazzani (Ray Corasani), a weapon-wielding terrorist intent on inflicting mass casualties.
The 15:17 To Paris, based on a book the men wrote with Jeffrey E. Stern, marks the third consecutive film Clint Eastwood has made about Americans he sees as heroes. His previous works, American Sniper and Sully, were well-told and engaging pieces about men who saved lives in their widely varied lines of work. The 15:17 To Paris does address the heroism of its main characters and others, but it also has entirely too much exposition. The screenplay adaptation from first-time scenarist Dorothy Blyskal gives viewers very little of consequence before the climax. Most of the trip footage involves the friends taking pictures, going to clubs, and checking out lovely European women. Also, the film spends more time on the two men who entered the service and not as much on their civilian friend. In addition, this film never shows the correlation between Christian faith and the military. Spencer and his friends did play with toy guns as kids, but he always prays to be an instrument of peace. I didn't expect Spencer of Alek to be this generation's Desmond Doss, but guys who wish to be an instrument of piece usually don't take up work where they bear arms. Viewers get to see Spencer and Alek's families, but members of Anthony's family don't make any appearance until the final moments. Eastwood portrayed these three as regular guys, and presented a film that is exactly that.
The acting is not bad, but it isn't special. Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler essentially play themselves, but I don't expect them to parlay this appearance into a screen career - even in the Christian film genre. Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer appear as the mothers of Spencer and Alek, respectively, but the main things they do are defend their sons from criticizing teachers and show pride in their actions in the end. Thomas Lennon and Tony Hale play a principal and a teacher who are always on the case of the young students. Jaleel White plays a teacher who serves as an inspiration to the boys. Chris Norman, an Englishman who was on the train and helped, also appears as himself, as does Mark Moogalian, an American emigre who tried to stop the terrorist, but, like Stone, was wounded.
In The 15:17 To Paris, Eastwood tries to do something a little different by making a movie about heroes with those people recreating the events of that August afternoon. This effort, while well-meaning, falls short of a full salute. It feels more like an effort that would be made for non-cable television. Most of the world appreciates the actions of Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and others, but this film thin on story derails before it reaches its final destination.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The 15:17 To Paris 2 stars. This cinematic train isn't bound for glory.