Clint Eastwood turns extraordinary real-life events into a tedious film


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Carla Meyer
, San Francisco Chronicle


With ``The 15:17 to Paris,'' director Clint Eastwood overwhelms the extraordinary with the mundane, turning the true story of three Americans who helped subdue a gunman aboard a European train into a tedious film.

The movie retraces the 2015 European backpacking trip of Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, three young men who first became friends as boys in the Sacramento area. Not just the part of the trio's European tour involving the train attack, but every uneventful Skype conversation and gelato-shop visit leading up to it.

Bradley Cooper and Tom Hanks, stars of Eastwood's similarly real-life-based ``American Sniper'' and ``Sully,'' would have had trouble enlivening this material. But the leads here are Skarlatos, Sadler and Stone, who play themselves. Although charismatic and likable, they are obviously not trained actors, and are overmatched by Eastwood's (working from Dorothy Blyskal's script adapted from a book co-written by Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler) leaden storytelling approach.

The young men are great in scenes, late in the film, that re-create the train attack. Eastwood filmed aboard the same high-speed train line from Amsterdam to Paris on which the three were traveling when Stone spotted a heavily armed gunman and took action, his friends following.

This fascinating sequence involves bravery, luck and a realistic amount of brute force. Stone and Skarlatos, then both in the military, and Sadler, a Sacramento college student, did not just tackle the gunman and that was that. The struggle lasted minutes, and from what we see on screen, was excruciatingly tense.

But these scenes represent a fraction of the movie's 94-minute run time. And although Eastwood deserves credit for not going the cheesy route by drawing out the attack unnaturally, the rest of ``15:17'' is so drawn out, you almost wish he would have given into cheese.

Eastwood successfully has used non-actors previously, casting Hmong American screen newcomers to play his bigoted character's neighbors in ``Gran Torino.'' But ``Torino'' had Eastwood's big movie-star presence to fill gaps, and its untrained actors were playing people not themselves, thereby requiring them to try to show signs of their characters' interior lives. Or in other words, to act.

This film plays more as a going-through-the-motions re-enactment, with few suggestions of interior lives. This works fine in the action sequence but not during slackly paced, dialogue-driven scenes from the trio's European backpacking trip, in which they marvel, unconvincingly, at familiar tourist destinations and, upon visiting a tavern, order ``a beer,'' as if there is only one kind.

Conversational banality reaches parody level with a scene in an Italian gelato shop in which flavors are carefully considered before orders are placed. It's the most prolonged counter-service scene since the one in ``The Room'' (subject of the recent film ``The Disaster Artist'') that's often cited as testament to that film's awfulness.

Eastwood seems determined to establish the men's pre-attack behavior as unremarkable. He also takes pains to show, in flashback scenes to the trio's trips to the principal's office as boys (juvenile actors play them) that the three did not seem destined for greatness.

You get where Eastwood is trying to go. There is supposed to be drama in contrast, between pleasure trip and harrowing train attack, and youthful mischief and grown-up heroism. But ``15:17'' is so flat-footed before the attack that all you can think about is when it will get to it, because then the film will be close to over. That the attack sequence ends up being good is a bonus.

The 15:17 to Paris

1 STAR OUT OF 4 STARS Starring Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler. Directed by Clint Eastwood. (PG-13. 94 minutes.)

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