After American Sniper– a true story about a man who is known primarily for the high amount of people he killed on the battleground- one could be forgiven for thinking that Clint Eastwood had gotten his jingoistic kink out of his system. This proves to be far from the case. After 2016’s extremely solid Sully, it seems that he has lost all ability to make a remotely entertaining, cohesive and interesting film.
The 15:17 to Paris begins by introducing us to three U.S. men (Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone playing themselves), whose descriptions could honestly be applied to any person on a certain day. They are, as the narration ensures to reinforce, “the best of friends”.
Jumping back a decade, the film chronicles how the three met in school, their time at college, and other filler that could easily have viewers wondering if they had walked into the wrong theatre. These exhaustive and pointless efforts to try and humanize the characters all fail miserably. The net result is faint, blurred caricatures of young males that we don’t care about. Two of them, eventually, end up in the military.
After this near-pointless introduction, one that easily takes up over half the film, if not three quarters, the two soldiers and their other friend, roped into a trip to Europe, finally decide to board the ill-fated train to Paris. Don’t fear though, there are more baffling, irrelevant scenes beforehand focusing on the trio’s arrival in Europe, so you’ll have time for a toilet break.
As for the scenes on the train, in which the harrowing real-life event is reenacted, to call the execution underwhelming would be far, far too kind. Not only are some scenes extremely hard to believe, and haphazardly shot, the time spent on-board the train is a maximum of fifteen minutes.
Keep in mind that the film’s title, inspiration and marketing, are all based on a this train ride!
As if the poorly executed coming-of-age story was not bad enough, there is also the predictable ‘theme’ of the U.S. can conquer all problems looming overhead. To be fair, there aren’t any non-U.S. people being demonized. However, apart from some lip service that is easily missed, the incredibly short time spent on the train is spent focused on the three Americans.
The biggest problem with this approach is that it takes at least half of the passengers, who also helped to halt the situation, out of the equation. Yes, two of the Americans were trained by the military and, perhaps, deserve more screen time. But, according to reports of the averted disaster, the first three to react and help with the threat were two Frenchmen and one British citizen, followed by the three we actually see do all the heavy lifting on-screen.
This latter point ultimately speaks to the atrocious execution of this film. Hang up the gloves Clint. For both our sanity.
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