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Movie Review: '15:17 to Paris'

Why am I watching people buy gelato?

15:17 to Paris is an epically misguided attempt at honoring three people who did something extraordinary. On August 21st, 2015, three Americans, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alec Skarlatos, were traveling on a train from Germany to Paris when a man with a gun began threatening passengers. Stone and Skarlatos, being military members on vacation, decide to charge the man and they prevented him from killing a lot of people.

The three men were very heroic and they earned the highest honor in France for their bravery. That said, this all took place in about five minutes. 15:17 to Paris, directed by Clint Eastwood, needed a way to stretch that five minutes in the lives of these three heroes into something feature length and it fails spectacularly. Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alec Skarlatos are undeniable, real life heroes, but it’s fair to say their lives until August 21st, 2015 weren’t exactly cinematic.

Compounding the issue of the lack of cinematic trappings, Eastwood decided to cast the real life heroes, Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos, as themselves. This means we have a mundane, true life story, acted out by non-actors with the guaranteed five minutes of action at the end of the movie. Perhaps there could be a good movie made from these ingredients but alas, the resulting film is not good.

We begin our story by establishing the terrorist, who is never identified in the film but history knows him to be Ayoub El-Khazzani. Eastwood uses some stereotypical elements to let us know that this is the terrorist. We see that the man has dark skin and a dark beard and his Americanized fashion is also something of an indicator. This would be an amateurish opening for a first time director but this being Clint Eastwood we give him some leeway on the assumption that it was just one poor choice.

From here we go back in time to Stone and Skarlatos as childhood friends. Stone and Skarlatos had a habit of not paying attention in school and we meet their mothers, played by Judi Greer and Jenna Fischer when they come to a parent teacher conference together. When they are told by the boys’ teacher that their sons likely have ADD and need medication to help their attention spans Greer responds awkwardly, screaming "My God is more powerful than your drugs."

The boys get moved to a catholic school where they befriend Sadler. Unfortunately, the boys keep being late to class and sent to the principal’s office. The principal, played by Thomas Lennon, more on him in a moment, decides that because Alec is proving to be such a troublemaker, again he’s been late to class a couple times, that the school is going to ask a court to take the boy away from his mother and hand him over to his father who lives in another state.

Do catholic schools have the power to decide who gets custody of a child? The answer is no, no they do not. Lazy screenwriters on the other hand, desperately searching for a way to work in an inconvenient plot point, like one of the kids moving to Oregon and breaking up the young friendship, do have such power. It would be up to a good director to know this plot point is silly and ludicrous and not film it and yet Eastwood put it in the movie.

Once we are finished with the tedious and silly childhood story, which feels like it went on for eons, we pick up the story of Stone and Skarlatos joining the military. This is a better section of the movie with Stone, at the very least showing some pathos as he fails to make it into the lifesaving core he’d hoped to join. His struggle during training to find a specialty is the most compelling anyone in the movie becomes but it’s brief and soon the movie rediscovers tedium.

How did our heroes wind up on that 15:17 train to Paris? Via the world’s most boring vacation of course. Here, Clint Eastwood treats us to a series of scenes that would not be out of place in movies like Birdemic or The Room. We are forced to watch arguably the most boring travelogue this side of Bubbie and Zaydie’s cruise to Acapulco. At one point, we have a scene where Sadler and Stone buy gelato.

That is an actual scene in this movie. Stone, Sadler and a woman they met, walk into a shop in Italy and purchase gelato. The only dialogue in the scene is the three picking out their flavors, the guy behind the counter confirming their choices, and each of the characters talking about how delicious their choice of gelato is. Tommy Wiseau buying flowers in The Room at least had transgressive weirdness to make it interesting, this is just three people buy and tasting gelato. WHY IS THIS A SCENE IN A MOVIE!!!!!

15:17 to Paris was well intended. These three young men were unquestionably heroic in the moment they found themselves in. I am not here to make fun of them; they are not actors and should not have been asked to try to be actors. 15:17 to Paris is not the fault of Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler. The failure of this movie belongs entirely to Clint Eastwood. One of the best actors turned directors we’ve ever seen seems to have abandoned his talent.

Not a single choice that Eastwood made while making 15:17 to Paris makes any sense. For example, the supporting cast of 15:17 to Paris is utterly bizarre. For the supporting roles in this drama Eastwood cast actors known for comedy leading the audience I was with to laugh in recognition. Thomas Lennon, known best for Reno 911, Tony Hale from Arrested Development and Veep, and Jaleel ‘Urkel’ White have distracting, unnecessary supporting roles in 15:17 to Paris

When each of these actors came on screen, the audience I was with welcomed them with smiles and giggles that were not at all appropriate for the movie. There is no point to these casting choices at all, why are they here, they’re barely on screen long enough for the audience to stop recalling the funny stuff they’ve done in the past.

15:17 to Paris is an utterly baffling disaster of a movie. One of our most respected and beloved actor-directors has made a movie so bad that it would ruin the career of anyone who didn’t already have a pair of Best Director and Best Picture Oscar statues. The notion that Clint Eastwood thought that any of 15:17 to Paris was a good idea is egregiously more interesting than anything in the movie, including the re-enactment of the central event that inspired the movie.

Why was this movie made Clint? Why did you think any of this backstory was remotely cinematic? Why did you dedicate an entire scene to people getting gelato?  

Sean Patrick
Sean Patrick

I have been a film critic for more than 17 years and worked professionally, as a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association for the past 6 years. My favorite movie of all time is The Big Lebowski because it always feels new. 

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