The 15:17 to Paris

 

            Criticizing a Clint Eastwood movie is like calling the Pope immoral.  Even if what the Pope does is questionable, he's still infallible, right?  Clint Eastwood is known as a Director who is impatient with multiple takes.  Shoot the scenes, go home.  He also likes real-life stories.  In “Sully,” he told the story of that airline pilot who in an emergency famously landed his plane on the Hudson River, with no fatalities.  Since the event itself was really only a few minutes, Eastwood chose to tell the tale in short bits, interspersed with lots of back story.  That method worked, mainly because Tom Hanks was the lead actor.  Well, this time we don't have Tom Hanks.  Or Aaron Eckhart, who played the co-pilot.  Or Laura Linney, who played the loving wife.  Instead, Clint Eastwood chose to cast the “real”guys on the train, whose names are Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone.  Yeah, there's a reason you've never heard of them.  They're not actors.  Sure, they did an heroic deed, and undoubtedly saved a lot of innocent civilians.  But let's face it, it was simply a mistake to cast them as themselves in this movie.  They're awkward on screen.  And the screenplay they have to work with doesn't help.  There's way too much filler and fluff.

            Oh, the actual takedown on the train grabs your attention.  These three young American men happen to be on a train from Amersterdam to Paris, because they're backpacking through Europe and want to see the Eiffel Tower.  Nothing unusual about that.  But on this particular afternoon train, on August 21, 2015, a terrorist came out of the rest room brandishing a pistol and an automatic weapon.  First he shot a passenger with the pistol.  Then he pulled up the automatic weapon as if to commence firing, but somehow these three American guys, acting on impulse, jumped up and assaulted the man.  And despite suffering some wounds themselves, they manage to subdue him, and hold him until the train arrives, where the police and paramedics are waiting.  Incredibly, there were no fatalities.  The three American men were awarded the Legion of Honor by grateful French officials.  The problem is that that whole sequence took about 20 minutes.  So we have to fill the rest of the time somehow.

            First we go back to the guys who've been friends since Elementary School, getting in trouble with teachers and principals for no apparent reason.  The educators among us will cringe at the way they are portrayed here.  We open up that old debate about ADD, ADHD, and the usefulness of Ritalin. We open up that old debate about the possible social impact of boys playing with toy guns.  Then we feature that familiar dynamic of teacher conferences, mothers defending their children like angry Momma Bears protecting their cubs.  All of these issues are brought up; none are helpfully examined.

            A more interesting gambit might have been to explore why these three guys chose to strategically underachieve, and what consequences those life choices produced.  We may have been more interested in what they actually did as adults, besides some sketchy vignettes about some time in the military.  And Director Eastwood chose not to even tell us about the Frenchman on the train who was actually the first to tackle the terrorist, but desired anonymity because he feared Islamic reprisals.  That would have added a lot of colorful context.  But instead, we get a lot of travelogue of the three amigos sightseeing in Europe, where they talk about what they ate, and what they drank.   And a couple of random girls they met.  None of which advance the story at all, but only serve to lead us to the fateful train ride.

            It's a shame.  The story could have been told much better, and simply wasn't.  It's an opportunity lost.  Parts of this movie are inspiring, but other parts are so amateurish they're painful to watch.  We expect more from Clint Eastwood, even if he is the Pope of Hollywood.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association