With “The 15:17 to Paris,” director Clint Eastwood overwhelms the extraordinary with the mundane.
The movie retraces the 2015 European backpacking trip of Americans Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, three young men who first became friends. Not just the part of the trio’s European tour involving the train attack, but every uneventful Skype conversation and gelato-shop visit leading up to it.
Bradley Cooper and Tom Hanks, stars of Eastwood’s similarly real-life-based “American Sniper” and “Sully,” would have had trouble enlivening this material. But the leads here are Skarlatos, Sadler and Stone, who play themselves. Although charismatic and likable, they are obviously not trained actors, and are overmatched by Eastwood’s (working from Dorothy Blyskal’s script adapted from a book co-written by Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler) leaden storytelling approach.
The young men are great in scenes that re-create the train attack. Eastwood filmed aboard the same high-speed train line from Amsterdam to Paris on which the three were traveling when Stone spotted a heavily armed gunman and took action, his friends following.
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This fascinating sequence involves bravery, luck and a realistic amount of brute force. Stone and Skarlatos, then both in the military, and Sadler, a Sacramento college student, did not just tackle the gunman and that was that. The struggle lasted minutes, and from what we see on screen, was excruciatingly tense.
But these scenes represent a fraction of the movie’s 94-minute run time. And although Eastwood deserves credit for not going the cheesy route by drawing out the attack unnaturally, the rest of “15:17” is so drawn out, you almost wish he would have given into cheese.
This film plays more as a going-through-the-motions re-enactment, with few suggestions of interior lives. This works fine in the action sequence but not during slackly paced, dialogue-driven scenes from the trio’s European backpacking trip, in which they marvel, unconvincingly, at familiar tourist destinations and, upon visiting a tavern, order “a beer,” as if there is only one kind.
The 15:17 to Paris
Rated: PG-13 for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references, language. Starring: Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler. Director: Clint Eastwood. Running time: 94 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 9, Edwards 14, Edwards 12, Majestic 18, Village Cinema.