The 15:17 to Paris movie cast: Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Judy Greer
The 15:17 to Paris movie director: Clint Eastwood
The 15:17 to Paris movie rating: 2 stars
In Clint Eastwood’s body of work, Christianity and military turn up often. More regularly than not, one sustains the other, as Eastwood zooms in on his honourable men and women largely unconflicted about right and wrong, driven forth by duty, their larger guiding force.
The 15:17 to Paris isn’t really an original Eastwood story. But it’s easy to see what would attract him to this real-life tale about three ordinary Americans, two of them off-duty soldiers, foiling a possible terror attack aboard a train (the 15:17 to Paris, which they boarded from Amsterdam), in 2015. He perhaps hoped to reinforce the theme of ordinary men doing extraordinary things with his decision to cast the three, Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler, to play themselves. However, in this detached rendition of that train incident, lasting no more than minutes, the three “heroes” and friends come out as even more ordinary than intended.
We meet the three as far back as 13 years ago, when as awkward children, they meet at their Christian school. A black kid, Sadler sticks out as a sore thumb in that stolidly conservative school, but Eastwood is not interested in how he finds himself here. Instead, we get to know Stone and Skarlatos better, who raised by “single moms”, are having a hard time of it at school — for reasons that are unconvincing at best. A teacher throws ADD — ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’ — at the two mothers, who walk out in a huff, not knowing about the condition and stating that “My god is better than your statistics”.
What is more clearly established is that Spencer is a war fanboy, and that the other two are only happy to follow, as he displays his collection of real and fake guns. However, in an inside joke that’s really not fair on a boy of Spencer’s age and his unquestioning love for the military, the two film posters in his room are of Full Metal Jacket and Letters From Iowa Jima — the latter, of course, an Eastwood film. In their own ways, both the films are critiques of war.
In between, the film keeps cutting to the incident on the train, for no possible reason and no obvious effect. In between those flashes, we see Stone and Skarlatos make their unhurried way to joining the military. Once in, Stone handles disappointments impassively, while the most exciting thing that happens to Skarlatos is having his rucksack stolen in tense Afghanistan. Skarlatos complains that he is “really bored” out there, as “the real action has moved on to ISIS”.
But Eastwood’s exploration of their benign life doesn’t end there; it includes an inconsequential trip through Europe, marked by Sadler’s selfie-stick obsession and their excitement at seeing up a woman’s short dress.
A sincere and repeated attempt is made to establish that the boarding of that train to Paris by the three was an act of God, for they almost didn’t go to the French capital. Stone also talks about being driven by a “larger purpose”. By the time that purpose comes to be, the film is almost too lifeless to gain any frisson from the blood spilled on the train floor.