I’ve yet to see every film Clint Eastwood made as a director, yet I’m still confident when I say that The 15:17 to Paris is his absolute worst yet. For the last decade, he has been on a downward slope, receiving partially undue accolades for his adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River (which doesn’t hold up) and lots of ironic praise for his addition to the unsubtle “racism is bad” sub-genre with Gran Torino. If you know the filmmaker, especially in his most recent years, you know he has a penchant for maudlin dialogue and “naturalistic” characterization, neither of which transport well to the screen. Even his musical scores tend to be sparse piano or acoustic guitar pinged or plucked at random; they’re about as lifeless as the last decade of his directorial work. The minute you hear the same kind of no-pulse piano-coustic during the opening scene of The 15:17 to Paris, you should be surprised to note that Eastwood didn’t actually score this one himself, instead farming out the duties to Christian Jacob, to whom Eastwood likely said, “do the same kind of boring, rote stuff I normally do.”
With The 15:17 to Paris, Eastwood decided to try his hand at atypical casting, not just in casting the three real heroes from the Paris train attack (Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler) to play themselves, but in also casting actors known primarily for comedies in dramatic supporting roles. Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Judy Greer (Arrested Development) play a couple of mothers, Thomas Lennon (Reno 911) a high school principal, Tony Hale (Veep) a beaten down gym teacher, and — wait for it — Jaleel White as yet another teacher. (Yes, TV’s Steve Urkel.) Why? Who honestly the fuck knows, and I’d be very curious to know why Eastwood would cast such a throwaway pop culture figure in such a small role, and who does absolutely nothing of note.
As for our hero trio — and nothing against them, because they’re not professional actors — they can’t act. They try, and the minute they begin, it’s terrible, and you groan, because you know you’re going to be spending much of the film with them.
And speaking of an entire film, since the pictorialized terrorist encounter amounts to nothing more than 20 minutes tops, that means the remainder of the running time has to be filled with…something else. And that’s what you get. The trio as kids, the trio as older kids, the trio on vacation, stints in the military, and not a single of their moments is interesting. Eastwood seems to be vying for Boyhood meets Before Sunrise meets United 93 and, impressively, he botches all three. The 15:17 to Paris might as well be called Three Mini Biographies of Those Three Guys Who Eventually Took The 15:17 to Paris and Did Some Heroics.
No one would ever argue that what these three men did wasn’t brave. They intervened in a terrorist plot, subdued a would-be murderer, and saved lives. Did they deserve a movie about their efforts? I’m not sure — maybe — though not every single heroic act warrants a 90+ minute dramatization. But I do know they deserved one much better than the one they got.