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The 15:17 to Paris movie review: Who needs real actors when all Clint Eastwood wants to make is propaganda?

The 15:17 to Paris movie review: Director Clint Eastwood’s decision to cast real-life heroes to play themselves backfires on the film, about the bravery of three men who foiled a terror attack.

movie reviews Updated: Feb 09, 2018 13:06 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
The 15:17 to Paris,The 15:17 to Paris Review,The 15:17 to Paris Movie Review
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Spencer Stone in a scene from The 15:17" To Paris.(AP)

The 15:17 to Paris
Director - Clint Eastwood
Cast - Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Jenna Fisher, Judy Greer
Rating - 1/5

Superficially speaking, there might not be much in common between Akshay Kumar and Clint Eastwood, besides of course that both have films that released in India on the same Friday – but the slightest bit of digging will uncover similarities that cannot be overlooked. While Akshay Kumar’s recent output has been a chain of socially conscious dramas and Eastwood’s films have, more often than not, celebrated the army,underneath their noble intentions, both their latest films are about one thing -- huge icons of cinema displaying proud nationalism.

Kumar’s previous movie, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha was even more boisterous, going so far as to applaud certain measures taken by the ruling party, and Eastwood’s American Sniper was almost fetishistic in its Republicanness.Now, there is nothing wrong with movies being political, nor is there anything wrong with artists being frank about their political leanings. Just a couple of weeks ago we saw The Post, in which Steven Spielberg did not hesitate to make his disapproval of the current Donald Trump administration known. It is not possible to discuss The Post without mentioning the world around it, so the same rules must apply the films of Akshay Kumar and Clint Eastwood. They asked for it, we did not.

It’s unsurprising that Eastwood made this movie. Over the years – I’d peg the tipping point to be his infamous chat with an empty chair in 2012 – the iconic star has transformed into the John Wayne of his generation – cantankerous, proud of his political incorrectness, and with a slight whiff of arrogant conservatism about him. Remember, this the same man who made Gran Torino in 2008 – a film in which a creaky old man discovers the liberal within him – and a mere six years later, he directed American Sniper and convinced those that mattered that it deserved Oscars. It didn’t.

And neither does The 15:17 to Paris, but this time, the cultural (and political) climate has changed. Shameless jingoism will be treated as it should – with impatience and disdain. This marks a tragic low point in Eastwood’s otherwise legendary filmography as director. And in the end, it was his hubris that killed him.

The 15:17 to Paris is the sort of movie in which children have the American flag framed on their walls and replicas of AK-47s in their closet. When informed (with stats) about how behavior such as this might be unhealthy for a child, his mom says, “My God is bigger than your statistics.”

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ray Corasani in a scene from The 15:17 To Paris. (AP)

Those of you who are aware of The 15:17 to Paris – if you are aware of it at all – would probably also be aware of its gimmick: Eastwood made the curious decision to cast real-life heroes Spencer Stone, Alec Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler to play themselves. The three (along with several other brave folks that the movie’s nationalistic pride completely erases from the picture, similar to what Argo, and more recently, Dunkirk did) became internationally known after they displayed remarkable courage and foiled an attempted terror attack in a Paris-bound train.

It’s easy to say this now, after having seen the film, but a point could be made that Eastwood doomed his movie the moment he cast Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler as themselves. Because his leads can’t act – that sounds harsh, but remember, they’re not actors – the film tries every trick in the book to make their performances less distracting. Eastwood tacks on a first act that takes us back to their childhood, when the trio grew up together and became brothers for life. The script, instead of developing several good ideas – there are interesting things in there about destiny and friendship and bravery – becomes too burdened with covering up the fact that the leads can’t emote. So they decided that the best way to counter that is by making Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler literally verbalise every thought that crosses their minds.

At different stages in the film, characters say things like, “I’m bored,” and, “This is why I want to join the army,” and, most impressively, “I feel like life is catapulting me towards something.”

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Spencer Stone, from left, Anthony Sadler and Alex Skarlatos in a scene from The 15:17 To Paris. (AP)

This over-reliance on dialogue means two things happen: There is a lot of talking, and almost all of the words spoken in this movie have the subtlety of an assault rifle. What makes this experience all the more aggravating is that there was no reason for Eastwood to do this. Presumably, his intentions, whatever they might be, would still have remained intact had he used professional actors, like he has, on numerous occasions in the past.

And never is this more apparent than in the final minutes of the film, when it finally arrives at the moment towards which it has been hurtling towards for almost an hour-and-a-half. No words are spoken other than sparse barked orders. No close-ups. No room for error. Those last 10 minutes were pure, physical cinema – silent, brutal, and almost as good as United 93, which has to be the template for this sort of thing.

Too bad then that Eastwood’s intentions (and politics) got in the way of his one job.

Watch the trailer for The 15:17 to Paris here

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Feb 09, 2018 13:00 IST