Clint Eastwood's signature no-frills one and done directing style returns to screens aiming to recapture the intensity and drama surrounding the three Americans and other commuters who fought and stopped a would-be terrorist on the fateful 15:17 to Paris. Where American Sniper and Sully firmly knew who the subjects of their respective films were, 15:17 takes a long trip to go a very short distance without giving the audience enough material to truly get to know and care about the real-life heroes of that averted tragedy. There are moments of Eastwood's brilliance behind the camera, but they're not enough as this 90-minute movie feels three times longer than it is. Warner Brothers has delivered a beautiful looking disc with an aggressive and effective Atmos mix to match. Bonus features are slim to the point of being nearly inconsequential. If you're a fan of Eastwood and need to see all of his films, The 15:17 to Paris is Worth A Look, but that's about it.
Ever the consummate filmmaker, Clint Eastwood is well known for his no-frills, quick to-the-point shooting style even going so far as simply filming rehearsals and calling it a day without warning his actors. Sometimes this swift and purposeful shooting style works to his benefit, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Invictus, are all great examples of how effective Eastwood is behind the camera 47 years after the release of Play Misty for Me. But that doesn't mean the man is free of commercial and critical missteps like Jersey Boys, Hereafter, or Changeling.
After the successful one-two punch of ordinary every-day American heroes with American Sniper and Sully, Eastwood turned his attention to The 15:17 to Paris with the three Americans on vacation who along with fellow passengers bravely intercepted a terrorist. While the main event is thrilling and showcases Eastwood's flair for action, the rest of the film feels lost in search of a narrative about manifest destiny and friendship that never quite materializes.
Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Anthony Sadler are just three regular guys out on a grand European excursion. As life-long best friends, they've been through thick and thin together. When they were children, (Bryce Gheisar, William Jennings, Paul-Mikél Williams respectively), they were typical boys who would get into trouble and cause constant ire from their principal (Thomas Lennon). Even after families moved away, the three stayed close. When Alek and Spencer went into the military, they felt it was part of a dream, a destiny that they were meant for something grand. To serve a purpose in this life. But their military careers were stagnating while Anthony struggled to find his own direction in life. Together, the three best friends hatch a European backpacking plan to see the sites together. not long after boarding the 15:17 train to Paris, destiny and fate would find the three young men.
It's difficult to pinpoint when and where within the story that The 15:17 to Paris goes off the rails. Part of the problem is that so little of the whole film actually works that when the film isn't clicking, it's pretty glaring. While being great actresses in their own right, Judy Greer as Spencer Stone's mother Joyce and Jenna Fischer as Alek Skarlatos' mother Heidi never feel believable. Part of that problem is because the early lives of the three men - aside from establishing their brotherly bond - serves little purpose to the main event. There are brief flashes where the film comes alive as Spencer Stone struggles to find his place in the Air Force. He wants to be someone who saves lives and his grit and determination along with his failures and successes give the film a little thrust, but just only so far.
Similar to Sully, The 15:17 to Paris is a story centered around a dynamic singular event, in this case, Stone, Skarlatos, Sadler and the rest of the passengers stopping a gunman armed with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. And like Sully, the audience is peppered with a few brief flashes of what happened until it's allowed to play out in full. Where in Sully that event was tied to the titular pilot's angst and fear that he could have or should have done something differently, in 15:17, it's played more as a tease. The audience needed a poke to maintain interest, so a brief flash of what happened pops up. It's in this framing structure that the film fails. Maybe a more linear straight and true approach would have been enough to course correct this ship? Possibly with a stronger script, but It's a tough call all around as little of this film actually works as intended.
No filmmaker is ever perfect. Eastwood like the best of them has gone through several stretches of good and bad films. The 15:17 to Paris isn't exactly a "bad" movie, but it isn't a successful one either. The material for a great film is hiding in there somewhere, but for some reason, whether it's due to the meandering unfocused script, the editing, or Eastwood's signature minimalist work style, this film never reaches the level of heroism that the true story attained. At its best, it's a harrowing reenactment of a terrifying event. At its worst, it's a character study in friendship without truly defining its characters. Far from being Eastwood's best work, The 15:17 to Paris is watchable and appreciable but never completely satisfying.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The 15:17 to Paris arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Brothers in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital package. Pressed onto a BD-50 disc, the discs are housed in a two-disc eco-friendly case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to previews for upcoming releases before arriving at a static image main menu. The included digital copy is Movies Anywhere compatible.
The 15:17 to Paris arrives with a generally very good looking 2.40:1 1080p transfer sourced from a 2K digital intermediate. The film maintains Eastwood's simplified camera stylings when dealing with conversational moments appearing almost like a documentary that hangs back and allows the action to take place unobtrusively. When the action on the train kicks in or when Spencer is training to get into shape for the Air Force, the camera gets in good and close and maintains sharp focus on single objects or people. Through it all, the image quality never wavers. Details are sharp and crisp with good strong lines. Facial features, costuming, and even some brief gnarly makeup are all on display. Colors are bright and cheery maintaining the look and feel of "slice-of-life" Americana. Primaries are bold and flourish when called upon. Brief shots of blood are deeply crimson while a scene with a security alarm and later a dance club play up reds and blues amiably with some terrific punch. Black levels are spot on without any issues giving the image a terrific sense of depth used to great effect during the train attack sequence. All around this is a spot on transfer.
The 15:17 to Paris earns its stripes for making subtle and effective use of Atmos. The main train sequence is the real highlight of the mix allowing for a richly rewarding immersive quality with full surrounds engaged and a nicely effective claustrophobic tightness out of the verticals. The scene when Stone is in training and there is an active shooter alarm, the activity is terrific. Similarly, the dance club scene gets a lot of channel work. However, much of the film sounds and feels more front/center focused as most person to person exchanges happen in the tight confines of a classroom or office space. Throughout, the dialog is clean and clear without issues. Scoring by Christian Jacob keeps the mix active while sound effects and objects have a strong tonal resonance. The 15:17 to Paris doesn't initially feel like it would require an Atmos mix, but the film makes great use of the extra spacing and channel activity when called upon. NOTE: This disc also includes an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track (that is pretty decent) as the default audio option. You need to go into the Audio menu to select the more impressive Atmos mix.
Unfortunately, the bonus features package for The 15:17 to Paris is pretty minimal stuff. Consisting of mostly EPK footage, you don't get a lot of material to dig through and less of that is relevant to the titular incident and instead focuses a lot of time on Eastwood justifying his interest in casting the Real-Life players of the event.
The 15:17 to Paris: Portrait of Courage (HD 12:27) Perhaps the best feature of the bunch, this focuses on the three best friends Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler and their experience on the train and what happened to them after. Unfortunately, this is very brief considering the event in question so it's only a cursory explanation.
The 15:17 to Paris: Making Every Second Count (HD 8:11) A bit on the EPK side of things, this covers some very quick making of behind the scenes material with the traditional talking head interjections.
The 15:17 to Paris may not have been the enlightening or thrilling ride Eastwood and crew had hoped that it would be. There are a number of factors at play that keeps this film from greatness, principally amongst them was that the script wasn't fully cooked lacking dramatic thrust. The film's unfocused journey struggles to find meaning leading up to the fateful events for the three American best friends Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler. While the attack sequence is tight, tense, and well executed, everything served up to that point feels aimless without thrust or importance. Far from a terrible film, it's certainly not among Eastwood's best recent efforts. Warner Brothers has delivered the film on Blu-ray with a terrific and effective A/V presentation Unfortunately the bonus features aren't all that plentiful or very interesting. Eastwood fans will want to see this, but a blind buy isn't recommended. Worth A Look.