The 15:17 to Paris (2018) ☆☆(2/4): A dull, tedious tale of American heroism

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During recent years, Clint Eastwood gave us a number of interesting movies about American heroism. While “Flags of Our Fathers” (2006) is a haunting World War II movie revolving around three soldiers in that iconic photograph shot during the battle of Iwo Jima, “American Sniper” (2014) is the fascinating observation of the life of a real-life Iraq War veteran, and “Sully” (2016) is a thoughtful drama focusing on a resourceful pilot who saved the life of many people including himself via his dutiful professionalism.

Considering the common themes shared among these films, it is no surprise that Eastwood came to direct “The 15:17 to Paris”, which is about three brave young American men who stopped a terrorist during the Thalys train attack in 2015. Here in this film, he tries to examine its three main character’s life and bravery as maintaining his usual dry, simple storytelling approach, but, unfortunately, the movie is marred by the lack of substantial drama and tension to hold our attention, and it turns out to be the most disappointing work in Eastwood’s filmmaking career during last two decades.

After the brief introduction of its three main characters at the beginning, the movie instantly moves onto their childhood years in Sacramento, California, and we see how they became close friends during that time. Not long after they are transferred together to their new school due to a trouble in their previous school, Spencer Stone (William Jennings) and Alek Skarlatos (Bryce Gheisar) meet Anthony Sadler (Paul-Mikél Williams), and these three boys soon come to hang around with each other while sharing their enthusiasm about wars and guns. At one point, Spencer proudly shows his several toy guns to his new friend, and we later watch them and Alek playing a mock shooting game in a nearby forest.

The movie also provides a little glimpse into the hardships of Spencer’s mother Joyce (Judy Greer) and Alex’s mother Heidi (Jenna Fischer), who have raised their respective sons alone. Although not exactly knowing what to do with their sons, they try to do their best anyway while firmly sticking to their faith, and Greer, who has shown more of the serious side of her talent since her hysterically funny supporting role in TV sitcom series “Arrested Development”, and Fischer, who has been mainly known for TV sitcom series “The Office”, bring some life and personality to their rather underdeveloped parts.

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Spencer wants to find a purpose in his life someday, and that wish of his only grows stronger several years later. After his accidental encounter with a US marine solider at his current workplace, Spencer, who is now played by himself from this point, decides to be ready for becoming a solider, and we accordingly get a quick montage sequence which shows him exercising very hard for losing his weight for necessary fitness. He eventually passes all the fitness tests, but, alas, he is disappointed to learn that he cannot be a paratrooper due to his poor depth perception, and he has no choice but to go for one of other options left to him.

While Spencer goes through his training course in the US Air Force, Alek and Anthony, who are also played by themselves from this point, go on each own way. After enlisting in the US Army, Alek is deployed to Afghanistan, and we see him going through another mundane day of his tour in Afghanistan. In case of Anthony, he goes to a college, but he keeps corresponding with his two friends via Skype, and they later decide to have some fun together in Europe when Alek says he will soon go to Germany for visiting his girlfriend.

What follows next is a series of episodic moments showing how these three young guys enjoy themselves in Europe. As spending a few days in Venice, Spencer and Anthony go here and there around in the city, and we get a little introspective moment when Spencer comes to muse a bit on where his life is going. After they join Alex in Germany, they decide to make a little excursion in Amsterdam, and they and Alex surely have fun as much as expected at a local nightclub.

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However, none of these moments is not particularly engaging without providing any significant depth to the story and characters, and the adapted screenplay by Dorothy Blyskal, based on the nonfiction novel “The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes” which is written by Jeffrey E. Stern, Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos, continue to suffer from its bland, superficial narrative. When the story eventually arrives at the expected sequence showing that fateful moment for its three main characters, we only come to observe them from the distance without much care or interest, and, to make matters worse, the sequence itself is too dry and loose to generate any suspense on the screen.

While bringing some sincerity and authenticity to their respective roles, the main three performers of the movie, who incidentally never acted before, are merely adequate at best and hopelessly monotonous at worst, and that reminds me that playing oneself in front of the camera is not as easy as it seems to us. Compared to his two co-performers who look rather stiff on the screen, Sadler feels more comfortable and natural, and it is a shame that the movie does not delve much into his life and personality (His parents are shown only at the end of the story, by the way).

Overall, “The 15:17 to Paris” is a dull misfire which is only notable for some thematic connections with recent works in Eastwood’s filmography. It is a curious attempt, but the result did not interest me much, and I am ready to move onto his next film “The Mule” (2018), which is released here in South Korea today. Yes, I heard from others that it is not that good, but it will probably not be as boring and mediocre as “The 15:17 to Paris” at least.

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