Clint Eastwood is a filmmaker I greatly admired for a large part of my life. The fact that he could be so masterful both in front of and behind the camera was astounding to me. He cemented his legendary status as an actor in Sergio Leone’s ‘Man With No Name’ Trilogy of the 1960s, and did the same for his reputation behind the camera with films like Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River and Gran Torino under his belt. He was someone I greatly looked up to in my youth, mostly because of his incredibly intense and charismatic presence in all of his films.However, times have changed. Just like Eastwood himself, I’ve gotten a lot older, and the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve been able to notice the crumbling foundation behind Clint Eastwood’s fast paced and slapdash methods of putting together films. This has resulted in everything he’s made after Gran Torino being either uninspired or just flat out bad. Even though films like Hereafter, Jersey Boys and American Sniper were all very disappointing, they are nowhere as horrendously incompetent as The 15:17 to Paris.
Where do I even begin with this one? If you showed me this film with no prior knowledge of its existence, and then you told me that it was directed by Clint Eastwood, then I probably would’ve laughed in your face. This movie is an absolute mess from the start. The entire first thirty or so minutes of the movie take place when our main heroes are children, and this is without a doubt the worst directing Clint Eastwood has ever done. The camerawork is shoddy, the dialogue is horrendous and cliched, and the acting is on a whole other level of bad. Everything about this film is wrong, but if you were paying attention to the production details of it, you’d have seen this coming from a mile away.
The main gimmick of this film is that the three main protagonists involved in the train attack are being played by themselves, and whilst I can see this working well in the hands of another director, this film achieves the exact opposite effect. These three guys are so terrible it’s actually baffling. For three people who have supposedly been best friends since childhood, they have absolutely no on-screen chemistry. However, as bad as these three guys are, they’re somehow still the best actors in the movie. All of the “professional” actors in this film seem like they either don’t care about the material, or don’t know what movie they’re in. Tony Hale acts like he’s the gym teacher from a movie like Dazed and Confused, Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer are so over the top it’s like they’re characters out of a Tim & Eric sketch, and Thomas Lennon just plays an over-the-top villain as he does in every movie he’s in. The only side actor who even tries is Jaleel White, and I know this is my fault, but I really can’t take this movie about a nearly fatal act of terrorism seriously when the guy who played Steve Urkel on Family Matters is delivering heartfelt advice to our main characters.
However, besides the amateur execution of this story, the film’s biggest flaw is that its subject matter is so minimal in scale that it would take an enormous amount of stretching just to make the story work as a 94 minute film. The train scene (which is Eastwood’s entire reason for making the movie in the first place) takes up a total of maybe 7 or 8 minutes. Now you can see the problem. The first thirty minutes of this film is set during the main characters’ childhood, which could work in concept, but everything about its delivery is so cheesy that it falls completely flat. The next thirty minutes of the film focus on the military training of two of the three main characters, which is admittedly better than the childhood segment, but is still very dull and poorly executed.
From the way this film is structured, you would expect the last thirty minutes to take place on the train, right? Wrong. The audience has to spend another thirty minutes dilly-dallying through Europe with our three stilted and awkward protagonists, who do nothing but drink beer and talk about bullshit for 29 painful minutes before we can finally get to the scene that is the entire selling point of the movie. There’s a scene where the main characters are ordering Gelato, and the scene literally takes two minutes because we see each character order their individual flavor, then we see the man behind the counter scoop each flavor of gelato, and then we see them pay. This was two minutes of absolutely nothing happening, and this is what I mean about stretching the subject material.
Clint Eastwood had this exact same problem with his last film, Sully. Much like The 15:17 to Paris, Sully was a film focused around one singular event that didn’t last more than 45 minutes, the Miracle on the Hudson. Even though that film felt very stretched out and unnecessarily long, at least it had beautiful cinematography, an amazing lead performance from Tom Hanks, and the scene of the plane actually landing was legitimately intense and visually interesting. The 15:17 to Paris has none of that. Clint Eastwood watched United 93 and decided he just wanted to make his own version of that twice, and unfortunately he’s failed both times. This film is should be an example to all aspiring filmmakers that if you are going to make a film centered around true events, then you should at least have some passion about the event you’re telling the story of.
You could possibly argue that Clint Eastwood just wanted to go as in-depth as possible with the real story of what happened, but there was a fourth person involved in stopping the attack on the train who is given almost no screen-time until the end of the film. Why didn’t this character get any screen-time? He was equally important to the story this film is centered on. Why didn’t Clint Eastwood care enough to include his story in the film? This man’s story of how he ended up on the train is probably way more interesting than the story we got. Unfortunately, it seems like Clint Eastwood just wanted to make another movie worshipping people in the military, and he used this story as an excuse to do so. This film is 94 minutes of pure agony. Do yourself a favor and skip this one. It’s not worth your money, and it’s not worth your time.