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Review: The 15:17 To Paris finds Clint Eastwood blinded by patriotic pride

PUBLISHED: 09:14 09 February 2018 | UPDATED: 09:24 09 February 2018

Anthony Sadler as Anthony, Alek Skarlatos as Alek and Spencer Stone as Spence in  The 15:17 To Paris. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures

Anthony Sadler as Anthony, Alek Skarlatos as Alek and Spencer Stone as Spence in The 15:17 To Paris. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures

© 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Village Roadshow Films North America Inc. and RatPac-Dune Entertainment LLC - - U.S., C

The dramatisation of a failed 2015 terrorist attack on board a train hurtling from Amsterdam to the French capital, which was thwarted by the quick-thinking of three American tourists, continues Clint Eastwood films about acts of valour torn from headlines.

Anthony Sadler as Anthony, Alek Skarlatos as Alek and Spencer Stone as Spence in  The 15:17 To Paris. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures Anthony Sadler as Anthony, Alek Skarlatos as Alek and Spencer Stone as Spence in The 15:17 To Paris. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures

The 15:17 To Paris (15)

**

In his last two pictures, American Sniper and Sully: Miracle On The Hudson, Oscar-winning humanist director Clint Eastwood brilliantly distilled acts of valour and self-sacrifice torn from newspaper headlines.

The 15:17 To Paris, the dramatisation of a failed 2015 terrorist attack on board a train hurtling from Amsterdam to the French capital, which was thwarted by the quick-thinking of three American tourists, seems like a similarly snug fit.

In a daring move designed to blur respectful reconstruction and Hollywood-glossed fiction, Eastwood casts the real-life heroes - Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone - in a chronologically fractured travelogue penned by first-time screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal.

This artistic gamble backfires spectacularly.

Anthony Sadler as Anthony, Alek Skarlatos as Alek and Spencer Stone as Spencer in The 15:17 To Paris. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures Anthony Sadler as Anthony, Alek Skarlatos as Alek and Spencer Stone as Spencer in The 15:17 To Paris. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures

The three lifelong friends exhibit almost no charisma through the lens and their monotone, staccato delivery of clunky, jarring dialogue robs Eastwood’s film of spontaneity, naturalism or humour.

Blyskal’s script displays no ear for free-flowing, believable banter except for one throwaway scene when the friends publicly challenge a Berlin tour guide’s commentary, arguing that the arrival of US troops was a deciding factor in Hitler’s demise.

The German host refutes these “alternative facts” and retorts testily: “You Americans can’t take credit every time evil is defeated.”

Alek (Bryce Gheisar) and Spencer (William Jennings) meet at elementary school in 1993, where their disruptive behaviour leads a beleaguered teacher (Irene White) to conclude they are textbook cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“If you don’t medicate them now, they’ll just self-medicate later,” the teacher barks at Alek and Spencer’s mothers, Heidi (Jenna Fischer) and Joyce (Judy Greer).

The boys befriend Anthony (Paul-Mikel Williams) in high school and, after graduation, Skarlatos enlists with the Oregon Army National Guard and is posted to Afghanistan while Stone serves his country in the United States Air Force.

Spencer Stone as Spencer and Seth Meriwether as Francis in The 15:17 To Paris. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures Spencer Stone as Spencer and Seth Meriwether as Francis in The 15:17 To Paris. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures

During a brief respite from active duty, the three friends (now playing themselves) reunite to backpack around Europe including a pit-stop in Paris.

A 25-year-old Moroccan (Ray Corasani) boards the same train and emerges shirtless from one of the toilets, brandishing an assault rifle.

The 15:17 To Paris explodes sickeningly to life in that climactic showdown, shot with brio on handheld cameras, but the preceding 85 minutes are an interminable bore.

Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone are poorly served by Blyskal’s lamentable script, which fails to give us any insight to the men’s personalities or the depth of their fraternal bond.

The friends’ European road trip lacks excitement and emotional crescendos except for one strobe-lit and booze-soaked boogie in an Amsterdam night club, replete with scantily clad girls performing gymnastic pole-dancing feats, that belongs to a different film entirely.

Apart from a breathless final flourish, Eastwood’s direction is plodding and lifeless. He is blinded by patriotic pride and for the first time in a long, illustrious career, he goes off the rails.

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