Review: Clint Eastwood's Bafflingly Messy 'The 15:17 To Paris'

You know how at the Oscars when they announce Best Picture, it’s never the people you know from the movie who get up to accept the award? It’s always the producers, who are responsible for overseeing the whole production, including the actors, writers, and directors. The producers take the responsibility and ownership of the movie. Considering how sharp a producer has to be when going into production on a new project, I could only assume that the producers of the new film The 15:17 to Paris are, in fact, cats who have no idea what a movie even is, because they’re cats.

On closer inspection, the film was not overseen by cats, but rather produced by actual conscience people, somehow. Clint Eastwood, it turns out, is both a producer and director on the film, leaving him predominantly responsible for how bafflingly incompetent it is. Oh sweet god, The 15:17 to Paris is a real mess.

I’ve been passionately interested in film for a little while now, and to my recollection, Clint Eastwood hasn’t made a single good movie within the last decade. That may be a controversial opinion, I’ve never been Eastwood’s biggest fan, but the evidence feels undeniable. Consider his lifeless Jersey Boys adaptation, where he took a box office record-breaking (and pretty fun) Broadway musical and made it into a joyless, wordy drama. Or look at American Sniper, with its dead-eyed baby doll and absurd bullet time sequences. Eastwood has made increasingly bad decisions with each passing film. This trend seems to have hit a climax with 15:17, a fictionalized, narrative film with the real-life, non-actor people involved playing themselves. If someone who’s still in the game, like Spielberg for example, decided to make a film this way, it might have turned into an interesting experiment. Under the sleepy direction of Eastwood, however, this movie is painfully awkward to watch. Even the talented professional actors in the piece, like Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, and Tony Hale, come off as stilted and confused.  That’s no doubt due to the direction and the fact that their scene partners literally don’t know what they’re doing.

The film attempts to tell the story of three young men who stepped up and stopped a mass-shooter from attacking the titular train they happened to be on, and the lives they led that brought them to that moment. Casting the actual men is an interesting idea, and to their credit, I did enjoy the friendship the three of them shared. Unfortunately, you can feel how uncomfortable and unnatural they are at acting in all their scenes. As a result, every potentially impactful moment that the movie has is just destroyed. The awkwardness oozes onto the screen, and you wind up feeling bad for these heroic men that their story is being botched so badly, with them on board as participants.

The film jumps back and forth through time, showing how the three friends met as kids, and the choices that led to their fateful trip to Europe. If the parts where regular men star as the leads in a studio drama are uncomfortable to watch, just wait until you get to the scenes where Clint Eastwood has to direct children!

One scene features them playing with their airsoft guns and laughing. “I don’t know, there’s just something about war, man,” one kid says dreamily. The line seems to suggest that he enlisted because going to war sounds like a fun time, a motivation I would doubt is 100% accurate. Seriously, screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal has written one of the worst things I’ve seen in a long time, and the kids’ dialog is especially painful and stilted. That being said, I do have to give credit to child actor Paul-Mikél Williams, whose natural abilities manage to shine through this garbage script and direction.

Another feature of the nonsensical nature of the writing is the characters’ seemingly supernatural abilities. They monologue several times about how they need to board the train because the universe is calling to them to do so, as if they already know what’s about to happen. The movie also transcends the typical depiction of prayer in film by having the characters literally talk to God and explain that they’ve received answers. I’m sure they’re attempting to show the power of their faith, but when you add that to the prophetic feeling that God wants them on the train, it really makes a case for the movie quietly featuring magical realism. This is maybe the 48th most upsetting problem that this movie has, but it deserves to be discussed nonetheless.

Overall, The 15:17 to Paris is boarder-line unwatchable. It’s awkward, messy, boring, and most of all incompetent. It’s honestly astonishing to see a movie this troubled be released by a big studio like Warner Bros. Mr. Eastwood, it’s really, really time to stop.

0.5 out of 5