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Movie Review: ‘The 15:17 to Paris’

Clint Eastwood directs this drama/thriller The 15:17 to Paris, a movie based on real-life life 2015 events in which three friends stopped a terrorist attack on an Amsterdam to Paris Thalys train.

Production assistant Dorothy Blyskal debuts with her first feature film screenplay, which is based on the autobiographical book The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers by journalist Jeffrey E. Stern, and these three men who thwarted a terrorist’s lone attack on this train – Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos.

Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos also star in the film along with other people actually at the key event depicted in this film. Flashbacks with younger actors portraying this core trio and combine with flash forwards that lead toward the key train sequence. This film adaptation of well-known true-life events does not rival the effectiveness of modern classics like Apollo 13 or Titanic and takes a while to engage audiences.

As this real-life trio basically retrace their lives, Eastwood’s unforgiving lens exposes their acting weaknesses, but his documentary-style direction helps. This film is not manipulative or selectively picking the best, most interesting parts of these people’s lives. This authentic approach mirrors our lives, which helps draw audiences in using realism throughout the 94-minute running time.

Some audiences might cringe at some awkward social dialogue exchanges or desire more scenes with direct relevance to the terrorist’s attack, but that would have diminished the realism. It’s not your typical Hollywood film (e.g. the music score from composer Christian Jacob does not really even kick in until the second half).

Jenna Fischer (TV’s The Office) co-stars as Heidi Skarlatos, Alek’s mom along with Judy Greer (Jurassic World) who plays Spencer’s mom. These women raise and enhance the overall acting level while the teacher roles from comedian Tony Hale (Arrested Development) and Jaleel White (TV’s Family Matters) are much shorter, but help lighten the mood. Audiences can also enjoy some minor comedic touches like a German tour guide singing the most memorable song from comedic musical The Producers. Alisa Allapach also has a small role as Lisa.

Real life hero Mark Moogalian also reenacts his key role in this story along with real life hero Christopher Norman who provided key assistance during the aftermath. Ray Corasani plays the terrorist who Eastwood creatively films for some effective dramatic effect.

The “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace” prayer by Saint Francis of Assasi makes the recurring theme, especially from Spencer’s point-of-view as various elements come into play during the climatic event.

Eastwood impresses with some aerial sunspot shots, but he and his crew miscue in an interior hotel sequence that is also the film’s most awkward transition from the previous scene. The misaligned camera angle reveals the side of Anthony’s mouth, which does not sync with what he’s telling Spencer just before an edit transitions to a front facing shot of Anthony.

Audiences can also see the stand-in for French President Francois Hollande in the staged scenes does not match well with the real footage used. It’s disappointing to hear unnecessary explanatory dialogue after already seeing effective visuals that convey the same information (e.g. the number of bullets the terrorist had with him).

An admirable, but average experience that comes recommended with reservations (**) and rated PG-13 for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references, and language.

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