The 15:17 to Paris
At the Cinemark
Let’s not bury the lead: Clint Eastwood’s “15:17 to Paris” misfires just like the terrorist’s jammed rifle - and so Clint’s dramatic ammo never hits the target with the impact that the patriotic director hoped for.
More on how that happened soon, but first some background about why Eastwood decided to cast the heroes to play themselves.
This isn’t the first-time Hollywood has plucked non-actors out of oblivion and shined the bright lights upon them.
Talent scouts are always on the lookout for a gold nugget.
A 12-year-old Jennifer Lawrence was spotted wandering around Union Station in New York.
Charlize Theron yelled at a bank teller, while a talent agent watched with interest.
Harrison Ford was a carpenter when George Lucas invited him to get behind the wheel of a 1955 Chevrolet One-Fifty Coupé and play Bob Falfa in “American Graffiti.
All of these stories had wildly happy endings.
Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos are the latest ordinary folk to be discovered by Hollywood. The three friends were vacationing in Europe when a terrorist attacked their train, which departed Amsterdam at 15:17 headed for Paris.
These Americans –two active duty soldiers and their friend Anthony – risked their lives to stop the attack and subdue the terrorist, who was armed with and AK-47 assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Miraculously, no passengers were killed.
Eastwood initially planned to cast actors in the film, but couldn’t find ones who could dissolve into the roles. Eastwood had met the three heroes at an awards banquet, so with less than a month to go before production began, he decided to ask the three heroes to play themselves.
"I thought, 'If I can get them approaching this thing without too much thought and too much worry and anxiety, they could do it,'" said Eastwood, in an “LA Times” interview.
That same article recounted the reaction of the three men when Eastwood approached them.
"I really didn't want to ruin the movie," Sadler said. "I'm like, 'Actors can do this and it would probably be more successful.' But Spencer was like, 'Are you really going to look 20 years down the line and say you could have been in a Clint Eastwood movie but you're not?' And that convinced me right there. There's no way you could deny that."
And so, Dirty Harry shouted “Take One.”
What had been initially conceived as a Hollywood movie had become, in essence, a docudrama with more key characters reenacting a portion of their lives. Eastwood invited other survivors to the set as well. The credits have six entries ending in “as himself” or “as herself.”
I applaud Eastwood’s courage in casting the three heroes to play themselves. His intent was to try to find the roots of an act of courage by tracing the lives of the three “ordinary” men to find the seeds of their heroism.
Eastwood begins the film by following them through their school years, giving us a glimpse of their character at an early age.
We meet kids who would never let their friends down. If one was in trouble, the other “had their back.” They lived quite normal lives, including adolescent sessions in the principal’s office.
On stage center stands Spencer Stone, who adds a spiritual element to the story by talking about his sense that his too-often-boring life might be leading up to something special.
He doesn’t explicitly say “God has a plan for my life,” but that’s clearly what he means.
“I don’t know, man, d’you ever just feel like life is just catapulting you towards something, some greater purpose?” says Stone as their uneventful European vacation chugs along.
Stone’s purpose emerges during two minutes of terror on board the train to Paris. Stone is the hero with a capital “H.” The others? Lowercase.
The three men are not bad actors, but neither are they good ones, capable of holding the screen. They are, in truth, eager extras who get too much camera time.
But it’s the script, not the cast, that derails this train to Paris. Most of the movie is a European travelogue, with our friends, seeing the sights while drinking beer and pondering “their purpose.” Breathlessly boring, folks. Moviegoers don’t pay to watch soldiers toss coins into fountains.
The half-hour attack on the train is vintage Eastwood which is compelling, assuming we’re still awake.
The film ends with actual news footage of the men being given the France's Legion of Honour. That’s a powerful tribute that reinforces the movie’s slogan: ordinary men did the extraordinary.
The message is welcome. The men deserve our thanks.
But the movie rests on one of the lowest rungs of the Eastwood movie ladder. It’s not going to earn a fistful of dollars.