Venerable director Clint Eastwood made one of 2016’s best films with Sully. When that project was announced, detractors wondered how anyone could center a worthwhile feature film around an event that lasted 208 seconds. But Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki turned it into a tightly constructed examination of PTSD, instant celebrity, and how a person can be haunted by their successes as well as their failures. With Eastwood’s latest film, The 15:17 to Paris, similar questions were asked. This time, the detractors have a point. Sadly, this is easily Eastwood’s weakest film in well over a decade.
The 15:17 to Paris tells the true story of three vacationing Americans (Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone) who foiled a terrorist attack on a train in France in 2015. In the film, the real heroes play themselves. But while Sully devoted minimal time to his life before the Miracle on the Hudson, the vast majority of The 15:17 to Paris is devoted to the life stories of the three men before the attack. However, just because three people did something indisputably brave and heroic doesn’t meant their life stories are cinematically compelling.
Much of the dialogue in Dorothy Blyskal’s script is painfully on-the-nose. The film’s first third is devoted to the boys getting into a lot of trouble at school with cartoonishly one-dimensional teachers and administrators. A large part of the middle third is a dramatically inert travelogue. The script seems to be trying for an admirable message about how anyone can step up and do something great no matter how unspectacular their lives were beforehand, but it fails to find a way to make the ordinary engaging. There’s also a worthy respect for the work done by single mothers (Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer play Stone and Skarlatos’ mothers), but that message is also conveyed in a clumsy manner.
Eastwood is a skilled director at creating tension and choreographing action, and the climactic fight does not disappoint. It’s reminiscent of the famous fight in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain in the ways it shows the audience how difficult it is to subdue another human being, especially one who keeps pulling out new weapons each time he’s disarmed of his previous weapon.
Eastwood turns 88 this year. The 15:17 to Paris will go down as a well-intentioned misstep in a remarkable career. Here’s hoping that career’s not over yet.