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The 15:17 to Paris Movie Review

The 15:17 to Paris (2017) movie poster The 15:17 to Paris

Theatrical Release: February 9, 2018 / Running Time: 94 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Clint Eastwood / Writers: Dorothy Blyskal (screenplay); Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, Jeffrey E. Stern (book)

Cast: Spencer Stone (Spencer Stone), Alek Skarlatos (Alek Skarlatos), Anthony Sadler (Anthony Sadler), Judy Greer (Joyce Eskel), Jenna Fischer (Heidi Skarlatos), Thomas Lennon (Principal Michael Akers), P.J. Byrne (Mr. Henry), Tony Hale (Coach Murray), Jaleel White (Garret Walden), Ray Corasani (Ayoub El-Khazzani), Mark Moogalian (Mark Moogalian), Isabelle Risacher Moogalian (Isabelle Moogalian), William Jennings (Spencer Stone 11-14), Bryce Gheisar (Alek Skarlatos 11-14), Paul-Mikél Williams (Anthony Sadler 11-14)


Barely a year away from turning 90, Clint Eastwood has remained one of Hollywood's most prolific filmmakers. Since winning an Oscar for directing 1992's Best Picture, Unforgiven, Eastwood has been someone to follow closely.
For a while, his biggest hits of the century were 2004's Best Picture Million Dollar Baby and 2008's Gran Torino, ones that occupied him on both sides of the camera. His other directing efforts, even when they had the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon, tended to underperform commercially. Then Eastwood directed 2014's American Sniper, a Bradley Cooper drama whose enormous domestic-heavy box office success still doesn't even really make sense.

That eleventh hour Oscar contender seems to have driven Eastwood away from dark, introspective tales and towards celebrating modern day American heroism. He followed that up with Sully, a well-reviewed, well-attended drama about US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger's fast-thinking Hudson River landing. The 15:17 to Paris is much in the same vein, but Eastwood goes even one step further by casting the real men who were involved in stopping the 2015 terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train.

Spencer Stone (playing himself) sees trouble a brewing aboard "The 15:17 to Paris."

The film jumps around chronologically, but settles on the friendship of our three leads, formed in childhood at the Christian school where military-obsessed Spencer (William Jennings) and his best friend Alek (Bryce Gheisar) meet fellow principal's office fixture Anthony (Paul-Mikél Williams). The three grow up making moderate trouble, so that moms (Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer) are called into visit teachers and learn about ADD. This first third of the movie is surprisingly full of faces familiar from television comedy, as Jaleel White ("Family Matters"), Tony Hale ("Arrested Development", "Veep"), and Thomas Lennon ("Reno 911!") all show up.

Of course, the main body of the film casts the real Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler as themselves. It is Stone who emerges as the lead. One day while working at Jamba Juice, he serves a Marine and develops his dream to join a demanding specific branch of the Air Force. He gets into shape and pushes himself in training, but has to settle for a different branch.

What seems to be another American Sniper-type story turns into just three friends vacationing together in Europe. They do what young men do: get drunk, chase women, use a selfie stick to document the trip. Of course we know from the title and design that we're leading to the titular train ride in which an absurdly well-armed ISIS terrorist is prepared to kill a whole bunch of people. He picked the wrong train, though, with these three guys, especially Stone, aboard. He also seems to be to terrorism what the Wet Bandits are to home burglarly, which helps.

Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone make use of a selfie stick on their European trip together in "The 15:17 to Paris."

15:17 isn't as harrowing as you might expect. The attack itself the whole film is building up to is short as it should be. The design invites comparisons to Sully, which got a 90-something minute feature out of a 90-second incident. This isn't nearly as compelling or well-structured a drama as that film, which should have competed for major Oscars last year.
But it is engaging, which is no small feat considering the lead actors are very clearly not actors. There's a trade-off involved in that stunt casting. It lends more authenticity to the friendship and the event than having the likes of Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, and one of the Chrises play the roles. But it always gives the proceedings the feel of a low-budget Christian movie, which is not what you expect from a craftsman as seasoned as Eastwood.

The film's content does lean a bit on Christianity, seemingly taking a more calculated approach to cultivating the same heartland appeal that made American Sniper so commercially potent. Warner Bros. Pictures, Eastwood's practically exclusive professional home for nearly fifty years, must have realized early on that this approach was not destined for the awards chatter that almost all of his directing works since Unforgiven have. That would explain why they're releasing this in February and not in the latter months of the year when Oscar fare opens. Even with the reduced expectations that come from a winter debut, 15:17 is being slammed by critics, who haven't been totally enamored with Eastwood's work in a while.

Related Reviews:
Directed by Clint Eastwood: SullyAmerican SniperJersey BoysJ. EdgarHereafterInvictusMillion Dollar Baby
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Reviewed February 26, 2018.

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