the 15:17 to paris: an example of experimental filmmaking.

One risks coming-off as contemptibly obnoxious if they even dare to criticize The 15:17 to Paris, a film that follows a trio of friends who are not actors but real life heroes Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone; three Americans who were given multiple Medals of Honor, reenacting the story of how they discovered a terrorist plot aboard a train while touring Europe. This is a heroic story that deserved to be told.

The 15:17 to Paris is rare type of film that was produced and directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood. The pacing of the opening sequence felt rushed and sudden. We’re given the information that there’s a suspicious male character boarding a train with a carry-on in such a rapid fashion and we’re only given a view of his body’s lower half as he walks. This is followed instantaneously by cutting to the three friends riding in a moving convertible, obvious to us that these amateur actors are fully aware there’s a camera filming them. We think we’re watching a narrative, but, we immediately know there’s something else going on here. It feels like a documentary even though we know it’s not that either. The audience is smarter than filmmakers think. We don’t need voice-overs to hold our hands as much as the filmmakers think. In this film we are given an unnecessary voice-over with poor audio quality, informing us of how we’ll be taken back to their childhood, showing us how this trio came about.

Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler playing themselves.

Based on the trailer and advertisements, Warner Bros. Studios falsely promised a high-octane adventure. The cliched plot technique of showing scenes from the train in present time in conjunction with flashbacks to their childhood would have worked fine, had there been enough action on the 15:17 train to begin with. Due to the lack of action on the train, the rapid scenes on the train feel like an annoying tease as we await for the inevitable attack, and the drawn-out flashbacks of our real-life heroes are not well-scripted scenes where characters have goals and scene objectives. The flashback scenarios are filled with on-the-nose dialogue with characters saying exactly what’s on their mind with no subtext. It’s as if we’re watching home video of three American friends and their experience touring Venice and Amsterdam. This is not drama. It’s an odd reenactment in the form of a documentary.

There’s a minor error in a scene on an American military base in Afghanistan where Alek loses his bag filled with his belongings to an Afghani villager. The majority of Afghan’s speak Dari; a dialect that has an easily distinguishable articulation and enunciation from its Persian mother language. The American soldier who engages the suspect, speaks to him in clear Persian wording with Iranian enunciations. This is fine, until we hear the villager respond in Persian using an Iranian accent when he’s supposed to be from Afghanistan. With no subtitles, who’s going to pay attention to this anyway?

Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone playing themselves.

It’s amusing that the camera stayed on our three heroes as they sipped and gulped their variety of beverages throughout the movie, in addition to the comical and comedic casting choices of Jaleel White (Family Matters) as an elementary school teacher; Thomas Lennon (Reno 911, Balls of Fury) as the Principal and Tony Hale (Arrested Development) as the P.E. Coach. Questions for Mr. Eastwood: is the joke on us? Is it supposed to be obvious to the audience that we’re not supposed to take this as a serious story considering the outrageous casting decisions?

This is Clint Eastwood, the legendary 11-time Oscar nominee and 4-time winner who has won twice for Best Director (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby). How dare we criticize such a phenomenal event? He’s a San Franciscan sharing the untold story of three Sacramento natives who prevented a major tragedy. It’s a pleasure to see our three American heroes clearly enjoying themselves on-camera, as its no doubt they have chemistry together on-screen. They are courageous souls who saved lives and they deserve their recognition. We thank everyone involved in the making of this film and telling this story of American bravery on foreign soil. And our hats go off to the real-life heroes who showed such incredible courage.

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