“There Are Things You Don’t Know That Will Shock You Beyond Your Worst Nightmares…”
When it comes to searching Hollywood for A-List stars who adequately fit the bill for portraying an infamous mass murderer, the annoyingly charming Zac Efron (Baywatch) isn’t exactly the first person that comes to mind. Following in the footsteps of Charlize Theron who famously won the Academy Award for her transformative performance in Patty Jenkins’ 2003 crime drama, Monsters, Efron puts aside the nice-guy image for a cinematic re-imagining of the life of Ted Bundy, the cold hearted serial killer, kidnapper, necrophile and self-proclaimed sociopath who ran riot throughout America during the mid 1970’s. Based on The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Bundy’s former girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall, and directed by American filmmaker Joe Berlinger, Extremely Wicked sees Berlinger return to the topic of Ted Bundy after his work earlier in the year with the Netflix distributed, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, and whilst dramatic works always seem to entice a larger audience rather than their documentary counterparts, there is no doubting that the inclusion of Efron opens the door for many more people to have a basic understanding of the single-handed crime spree that was Mr. Bundy.
Whilst Berlinger undoubtedly finds the figure of Bundy remarkably interesting as a contemporary case of just how bad human nature can turn inside just one person, Extremely Wicked annoyingly fails to bring such dedication and obsessive levels of detail to the big screen, with the screenplay at the centre of the drama failing to delve anywhere near past the initial surface of Efron’s character as we skip through the beginning of his relationship with Kendall, as played by the marvelous Lily Collins (Tolkien), and the various court proceedings which take place as he finally comes face to face with the justice he truly deserves. Whilst the central relationship between Kendall and Bundy is only minimally developed, it is the performances which really set in stone the crazed bond between the two, with Collins once again outshining her male counterpart after doing so previously in Tolkien, as we observe the faithfulness and guilt-filled resentment of her character as she watches her beloved be accused of crimes beyond the realm of human plausibility. With an electric pacing which zaps the drama rather sharpish towards the finish line, such luxuries ultimately take away any chance of meaningful depth, particularly when it comes to a deeper understanding of Bundy’s actions and the many cases brought to court, and for someone with only a brief awareness of the name, the character and the killings, Extremely Wicked is suitably fine for a cliff notes version of one of America’s most infamous twentieth century characters, but for real substance and clarity, the documentary will undoubtedly be much better served. Your choice.
Overall Score: 6/10
“The Law Says Women Stay Home, Men Go To Work, But All People Must Be Treated Equally…”
Based on the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Brooklyn born and highly inspirational lawyer who during the late twentieth century spent a considerable amount of her career advocating the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality, On the Basis of Sex sees the return of Mimi Leder (The Peacemaker, Deep Impact) to the big screen after her success on television through the likes of The Leftovers. Featuring a screenplay from screenwriting debutante, Daniel Stiepleman, Leder’s movie sees Felicity Jones (Rogue One) take the leading role as the highly intellectual, if slightly sanctimonious Ginsburg, as we see her venture through the masculine dominated society of the late 1950’s and well into the radically different and more open-minded 1970’s, all the time supported by her loving husband, Martin Ginsburg, as played by the safe pair of cinematic hands which is Armie Hammer (Sorry to Bother You). With an abundance of important statements at the heart of the drama, Leder’s latest is an enjoyable and interesting gentle breeze through the politics of the era in which the narrative is set, and whilst On the Basis of Sex does indeed benefit from a excellent central performance, the substance and depth you would expect from a film tackling so many issues is inherently lacking, resulting in a popcorn piece which although is enjoyable enough, fails to hit as hard as the central character’s effect on the world today.
Beginning with an almost The Social Network sensibility as we witness Jones’ Ginsburg become enrolled in the male dominated halls of the Harvard Law School, we immediately cotton on to her stubbornness to conform to the sexist mannerisms of the school’s hierarchy, all the while attempting to balance her education with her home life as the stresses of a newborn baby and her husband’s recent cancer diagnosis threaten to derail her completely. With the opening act of the film managing to develop Ginsburg with a likeable degree of depth, the narrative then steams ahead to the 1970’s as we now see a fully rounded family unit featuring the added inclusion of the outspoken, idealist figure of Cailee Spaeny (Bad Times at the El Royale) as Jane Ginsburg, who comes across as the ideal inspiration to her mother to finally battle against a fundamental sexist brand of political ideals. With the first ninety minutes of the movie essentially semi-effective characterisation with a side plate of knowing build-up to the final act, the concluding thirty minute court drama set pieces is actually rather well handled, even with a degree of dramatic licensing which makes Jones’ standout acting moment more pantomime than To Kill a Mockingbird, a story of which is crucially mentioned at one point in the drama. As a whole therefore, On the Basis of Sex is too low-key and safely played to be classed as a true representation to match the importance of its’ central figure, but with committed central performances and a likeable central feel to it, Leder’s return to the big screen is more than satisfactory.
Overall Score: 6/10
“You Can Be An Asshole If You’re Famous. You Can’t Be Unknown And Be Such A Bitch, Lee…”
With Melissa McCarthy always succeeding in managing to send a particularly large and unwelcome chill down the length of my back each and every time I see her name plastered across a new cinematic release, the early murmurings of a movie which not only featured McCarthy taking on something different to her normal adolescent, awfully timed comedic nightmares, but one in which the American was actually rather splendid too, immediately raised my film reviewing eyebrows in the hope of something majestic, even if a slight whiff of trepidation remained due to the almost painful recollection of her involvement in 2018’s worst film by quite a considerable distance, The Happytime Murders. Based on the controversial figure of American author, Lee Israel, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the latest from U.S based filmmaker, Marielle Heller, whose best known work includes Transparent and The Diary of a Teenage Girl, does indeed take full advantage of the best on-screen features which McCarthy has to offer, with Heller’s movie supplying the actress with a role in which she undoubtedly sinks her teeth into, even within the confines of a central narrative which does annoyingly fail to ever secure adequate lift off, but with a clear sense of acting dedication and a faintly interesting premise, McCarthy’s latest is indeed a step in the right direction, albeit one which doesn’t exactly hold a torch to the rather bemusing critical acclaim which has been showered upon it.
Highlighting from the outset the rather depressive, downbeat sensibility of McCarthy’s Israel, the movie opens after her brief success in the world of writing due to her well received biography of Estée Lauder and her attempts to reignite such attention by conducting research for a novel based around the life of Fanny Brice. Living in a dingy, unkempt one bedroom apartment with only her unwell feline friend to keep her company, Israel suddenly falls upon a letter bearing the writing of Brice herself, only to discover that the world of fraudulently constructed letters from the pen name of dead famous authors actually pays significantly well, a notion seen as the ultimate cure for her less than graceful financial and personal situation. Aided by the HIV ridden, crafty, streetwise hand of local drug dealer, Jack Hock, played in outrageously entertaining form by the now Oscar nominated, Richard E. Grant (Logan) the pair soon begin a successful partnership within the fraud business as they make their way around the local area in order to pawn off as many convincing letters as humanly possible. With a familiar rise and fall narrative regarding the discovery and punishment of criminal undertakings, the most effective element of Heller’s movie is undoubtedly the central relationship between Hock and Israel, with both parties managing to balance each other out in the category of total societal retrogrades, whilst the swift back and forth quip-laden interchanges are both smart and excellently directed. However, with Grant bringing charm to burn, the focus on McCarthy ultimately results in no sympathetic link whatsoever, resulting in actions and consequences which are observed but never really fully engaged upon, and with strange narrative asides which go absolutely nowhere come the credits screen, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is the type of independant release which could have been better served with both a better editor and an extra slice of flash to at least living things up, resulting in Heller’s movie falling into the category of interesting, but not exactly memorable.
Overall Score: 6/10
“My Son Is Out There Somewhere, And I Don’t Know What He’s Doing! I Don’t Know How To Help Him…”
Following on the early year release of the quite baffling Robert Zemeckis directed Welcome to Marwen, Steve Carell (The Big Short) returns once again to the big screen with Beautiful Boy, a low-key and rather delicate insight into the troubled family life of American journalist and author, David Sheff, whose 2008 memoir of the same name acts as the basis for a movie focusing on the central relationship between Carell’s Sheff and his young, overly troubled and drug addicted son as played by the breakout star of the past few years, Timothée Chalamet (Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name). Directed by Belgian filmmaker, Felix Van Groeningen, who also contributes to the screenplay alongside Lion screenwriter, Luke Davies, Beautiful Boy is a particularly somber cinematic glance into the effect of substance abuse and addiction, a film which although struggles to maintain a constant flow of greatness throughout its near two hour runtime due to some rather messy and dragged out pacing, succeeds in presenting a wide range of themes and ideas with a level of dramatic authenticity which makes the final product something both emotionally draining and cinematically fulfilling, and with a central acting duo with talent and chemistry to burn, Beautiful Boy is annoyingly just short of something rather excellent, but still highly impressive nonetheless.
Bouncing back and forth throughout the early life of Chalamet’s Nick across three main time periods, Beautiful Boy takes the nonlinear narrative approach in attempting to portray a boundless familial bond between father and son, with Carell’s David a well educated, respected and grounded caring family man who is completely bedazzled by a fundamental lack of understanding regarding his son’s reliance on a horrifying range of illegal substances when the world has seemingly been handed to him on a plate. Will Carell and Chalamet joyously bouncing off of each other with a level of acting which just breathes authenticity and has no problem whatsoever in attempting to construct a sense of realism, the differences in performance type also benefits the film as a whole, with Chalamet’s drug-fuelled transformation carrying the almighty stand-out heft seen before from other actors in the likes of films with tonal similarities such as Requiem for a Dream and Dallas Buyers Club, and Carell counteracting the extreme side of things with a nuanced, empathetic and quite understated performance which ranks up there with his best dramatic work since Foxcatcher. With an ocean-like cinematography, a really interesting soundtrack which blends indie guitar riffs with a jukebox soundtrack, allowing for one of the best scenes in which a teenage Nick bellows out “Territorial Pissings” alongside the radio, Beautiful Boy is indeed a really interesting two-sided character piece, which although does let itself down with a rather silly elongated runtime, works best in the dramatic sense by having that horrific sense of unease the most impressive works about substance abuse always need to include in order to really stick and make a lasting impression.
Overall Score: 7/10
“This Campaign Is About The Future. Not Rumors, Not Sleaze, And I Care About The Sanctity Of This Process, Whether You Do Or Not…”
In an era when scandal, rumour and sleaze is the hot topic bound to sell newspapers or boost twitter headlines to pretty much everyone in today’s knowledge obsessed society, even to those too embarrassed or tight lipped to admit to enjoying such nonsense, one could argue that The Front Runner follows on nicely from the likes of Colette and the hotly anticipated, Vice, by being a particularly timely piece of cinema which above everything, proves that the world we live in today will undoubtedly be trivialised and dramatised onto unaware younger audiences in the future who will look up to their parents and ask with readying intrigue; “did that really happen?” In the case of The Front Runner, a dramatic big screen portrayal of the infamous Gary Hart 1987 presidential campaign, the central events at the heart of the drama most definitely did occur, occupying a time in which a shift of political focus in regards to the purpose of the media created one of the most infamous and talked about character assassinations in recent history. Directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, Tully) and based on the 2014 novel, “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid” by American journalist, Matt Bai, The Front Runner is an interesting yet flawed political drama which somewhat buckles under the pressure of too many talking points, but ultimately is saved by some swift, sharp dialogue and a Hugh Jackman on top dramatic form.
Working around a screenplay from the combined talents of Bai, Reitman and House of Cards supervisor, Jay Carson, The Front Runner on the face of it and from the point of view of the trailers pushes forward a movie with a central focus on the rise and fall of Jackman’s Hart, a charismatic, well spoken and most crucially, refreshing change of leadership for an American public all ready well versed in the ways and means of enormous political scandal. Set primary in 1987, Reitman’s movie follows very familiar genre conventions from the start, showcasing the inside of election campaign headquarters, creaky, sweaty coach rides and of course, the smokey haze of twentieth century media rooms which immediately evoked All The President’s Men and last year’s, The Post, in more ways than none, with the film feeling the need to add the likes of Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward into the mix with no real purpose other than to solidify the obvious connection between all three movies. Whilst there is indeed scandal, late night photo opportunities and the usual immediate panic when the story first breaks out, The Front Runner is arguably more interesting when it focuses on the underlying notion of shifting allegiances from the point of view of the media, a particular idea in which the source material was wrapped around, with Bai himself stating his words acted as a scathing critique of his own industry, one which had shifted from a high level of professionalism to essentially being gossip-laden papers rags in order to appease those ultimately paying the money to keep the news rolling. Whilst the film also suffers from a wandering and conflicted portrayal of the central figure, with it never really having the balls to delve deep enough into the central scandal to paint Hart anything more than a symbol of ambiguity, Reitman’s latest has just about enough as a whole to hold its’ enormous weight together but still feels rather like a big opportunity slightly missed.
Overall Score: 6/10
“You’re A Bunch Of Boys Making Models Out Of Balsa Wood! You Don’t Have Anything Under Control…”
With a career so far which features two modern masterpieces and a well deserved Academy Award win, Whiplash and La La Land director, Damien Chazelle, returns to cinemas this week with First Man, a biographical drama based on the true story of renowned astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and his involvement within the troublesome quest throughout the 1960’s to land on the surface of the Moon. Featuring a screenplay from Spotlight and The Post screenwriter, Josh Singer, the Academy Award winning American uses James R. Hansen’s 2005 biographical novel, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, as the primary basis for the depiction of events on screen, and whilst Chazelle does indeed focus heavily on the spectacle of space exploration with terrifying precision and accuracy, the real examination within the film is Armstrong himself as played by Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049) who reunites with Chazelle after their successful partnership together on last year’s La La Land. With contemplations on the effect of grief and discussions regarding whether particular sacrifices fail to be justified in the discovery of the secrets of the universe, Chazelle’s latest is a thoroughly engaging and beautifully constructed work of cinema which although fails ever so slightly to maintain the American’s flawless cinematic record, is a bold and brave addition to history’s depiction of America’s greatest contemporary achievement.
With Singer’s screenplay choosing to primarily focus on the 1960’s Armstrong household which acts as the central cornerstone of the narrative throughout the film’s run-time, the audience becomes immediately privy to a broken and grief-stricken central relationship between Claire Foy’s (Unsane) Janet Shearon, and Gosling’s take on an American hero whose silence and introverted nature makes it hard to break the character down, a purposeful decision by Chazelle who utilises the performance of Foy to share the frustration of the audience in the failed attempts to crack the surface of a person tangling with not only the pressures of the grounded life around him but the wider purpose handed to him. Whilst Gosling is renowned for sombre, brooding performances in the likes of Blade Runner 2049 and Drive, Chazelle utilises the stern stare of the Canadian to create an ice-like template of a person attempting to nullify the pain of loss by succeeding at what he knows how to do best, and with the freedom offered to him in the emptiness and vastness of outer space, First Man chooses to view the Moon landings as an excuse for Armstrong to trade the loneliness and harshness of planet Earth for the the loneliness and harshness of the unexplored blackness waiting for him outside the atmosphere containing him on ground level.
With Chazelle once again utilising the now Academy Award winning skills of his movie-making team from both Whiplash and La La Land, composer Justin Hurwitz continues to impress upon the big screen with yet another impressive musical body of work, mixing classical strings with atmospheric snarls within a soundtrack which includes one particular track which clearly evoked Strauss’ “The Blue Danube” from 2001: A Space Odyssey with a slight hint of La La Land-esque romantic sensibility, and with Linus Sandgren returning as Chazelle’s cinematographer, the Swede chooses to shoot the grounded drama of the 1960’s with a grainy, Battle of the Sexes-esque aesthetic, saving the power of the IMAX cameras for the concluding journey into outer space, where vast darkness and utter silence has never looked so utterly beautiful. Whilst the decision to focus more on the man rather than the expedition may indeed alienate some audiences heading into a screening of First Man eager to witness an abundance of space exploration, Chazelle’s construction of the few shuttle set pieces when they do come are terrifying, evoking a maniacal sense of claustrophobia as the camera is literally shoved into a tin box alongside our daring heroes who come to realise that all that separates them from certain death is a couple of screws and some tightly woven, rather shaky metal. Choosing to focus on the emotional resonance of one man’s story against the backdrop of the Apollo missions, Chazelle’s latest is a lavish, visually stunning and perfectly acted character study which not only emphasises the young American’s luscious talent for producing memorable cinematic experiences but also highlights the ease in which a difficult tale such as the one central to First Man can be handled with such maturity and effortlessness. See it in IMAX.
Overall Score: 9/10
“I Still Have Hope, Dreams, Family and Friends. And I Choose To Live…”
Based upon Åsne Seierstad’s 2015 book, One of Us, a biographical account of the shocking 2011 Norway terror attacks carried out by lone wolf and far-right extremist, Anders Behring Breivik, director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum) returns with yet another intense and powerful cinematic adaptation of true events in the form of 22 July following on from the critically acclaimed one-two of United 93 and Captain Phillips in 2006 and 2013 respectively. Released simultaneously within a select amount of theatres and streaming exclusively and nationwide on the Netflix platform, Greengrass’ latest is a stark, relentless and brilliantly acted attempt at highlighting on the one hand the sadistic, evilness of terror, and on the other, the power of unity and strength within a community riddled with tragedy and extreme loss, and whilst 22 July contains elements which rank up there with the most intelligent, albeit harrowing, works of cinema produced by Greengrass thus far in his rather exceptional back catalogue, the film as a whole fails to handle the subject matter with enough conviction to really scratch the surface of understanding the purpose of such despicable acts or the lingering effect it had on the wider populous, a particularly aggravating weakness considering such themes are ones the Greengrass undeniably knows how to convey when dealing with such tragic, contemporary events.
With an agonsing and exceptionally difficult opening act in which we observe in documentary-like style the plans of Anders Behring Breivik fall into place, Greengrass chooses not to hide away from the violence carried out but also thankfully slides away from falling into the trap of over-sensationalising it too, with the first forty minutes at times simply unbearable as the camera follows Anders Danielsen Lie’s (Personal Shopper) portrayal of Breivik as he increasingly and coldly murders his way through innocent lives in order to satisfy his political beliefs. After releasing the audience from the clutches of terror come the hour mark, the remaining ninety minutes is spent observing key characters in the events leading up to Breivik’s trial, ranging from Jonas Strand Gravli’s wounded young survivor to Jon Øigarden’s portrayal of Geir Lippestad, the lawyer tasked with defending Breivik, and whilst Greengrass attempts at balancing the narrative to focus on the wider effect of Breivik’s actions, the pacing and lack of depth results in the movie unfortunately sliding into a manner which can only be described as overly procedural and shockingly, rather plodding. Where the movie does ultimately work however is in the emotive-laden set pieces and concentration on the singular rather than the many, particularly a concluding court speech from Gravli’s broken terror victim, and whilst Greengrass carries out the drama in efficient means, for a movie verging on two and a half hours worth of storytelling, July 22 struggles to justify such enormities and fails to hold the sheer starkness of a simply masterful opening act.
Overall Score: 7/10
“We Think You Might Be The Man To Open Up Things Around Here…”
With a staggeringly eclectic back catalogue which ranges back a whopping thirty five years, director Spike Lee knows a thing or two about film-making, and whilst recent projects from the influential American haven’t exactly been front and centre of the cinematic spotlight, the release of BlacKkKlansman opens to a wide audience bearing high expectations after reported critical acclaim and the prestigious honour of winning the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Based upon former police officer and detective Ron Stallworth’s 2014 novel “Black Klansman”, a written account of Stallworth’s infiltration into the Ku Klux Klan during the late 1970’s, Lee’s movie undoubtedly lives up to expectations, a staggeringly powerful and entertaining multi-layered drama which sees John David Washington, son of Denzel Washington, as the cocky, undenaibly likeable, Afro-wearing Stallworth who persuades his superiors within the Colorado Springs Police Department to be placed undercover alongside Adam Driver’s (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) Detective Flip Zimmerman in order to gain access into the secretive local Klan led by Topher Grace’s (Interstellar) unbelievably racist and anti-Semitic, Grand Wizard, David Duke.
Mixing comedy with police procedural drama alongside an overarching political cornerstone which not only emphasises the race-relations issues of the 1970’s period setting but the state of the United States political spectrum today, BlacKkKlansman combines the harsh, dangerous perils of undercover policing seen in the likes of The Departed and Eastern Promises with a constant stream of rib-tickling satirical gags as it moves deftly through its’ two hour plus runtime with considerable ease and a gloriously well-mannered pace. With Lee relishing the chance to emphasise the racial undertones to alarming degrees, the movie’s obscenely vile character’s are as hateful as the heroes of the piece are joyful to be around, with Washington, Driver and Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming) as Patrice all on the top of their game in their attempts to create three dimensional, believable personalities each with their own personal sufferings and crusades, and with Lee’s skilful eye orchestrating a number of superb set pieces, including a heartbreaking juxtaposition between an old man’s tale of murder and the KKK applauding to a screening of D. W. Griffith’s 1915 controversial picture, The Birth of a Nation, BlacKkKlansman is undoubtedly Lee’s best movie for over a decade, a stunning work of blended drama which barely puts a foot wrong.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Was Loved For A Minute, Then I Was Hated. Then I Was Just A Punch Line…”
Based upon the controversial and compelling career of professional ice skater, Tonya Harding, Craig Gillespie’s (The Finest Hours) Oscar nominated biographical drama, I, Tonya, featuring Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) in arguably her most fleshed-out leading performance yet, takes an impressive shot at attempting to gel together a mix of Scorsese inspired storytelling with a Rocky-esque tale of sporting success, and with the aid of a rockabilly jukebox soundtrack and eye-catching performances all around, Gillespie’s latest is a rousing, crowd-pleasing success. Utilising the form of retrospective interviews with each of the key players to unravel the exposition as the narrative evolves, I, Tonya benefits from a lightning quick editing pace straight from the outset, beginning with a young Harding as she is nurtured and raised by the steely-eyed harshness of Allison Janney’s (The Girl on the Train) LaVona Fay Golden as she begins her love affair with the ice and swiftly moving to the fruition of the relationship between herself and Sebastian Stan’s (Captain America: Civil War) Jeff Gillooly, one which proves central to Harding’s journey through both successes and life-changing failures.
Whilst the interview format does make it easy for Gillespie to cross over every avenue possible in terms of storytelling gaps, the constant switch from past to present does ultimately jar the pace of the movie come the second half, one which is too not exactly helped by the decision to include the breaking of the fourth wall at times which personally never really seemed to work to the film’s advantage, yet where the movie does succeed is in Robbie’s wildly comical and full blooded performance, one which utilises the scripts attempts to balance her love for the sport with the shocking depiction of domestic issues from both Janney’s chain-smoking mother figure and Stan’s abusive and deluded on/off love, and one which through the aid of digital effects and stunt doubles means that the physicality of the skating scenes are brilliantly orchestrated. Of course, with Harding’s biggest association being that of a rather violent moment of utmost craziness, the concluding act of the movie ruffles together elements of jaw-dropping stupidity, laugh out loud comedy and heartbreaking finality, and whilst Gillespie’s movie doesn’t exactly hit the heights of Scorsese-inflicted film-making it so obviously attempts to emulate, I, Tonya is a highly satisfactory and ludicrous tale of a fundamentally interesting public figure.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Do You Ever Feel Life Is Pushing Us Towards A Greater Purpose…?”
Renowned for a distrust in the works of finesse and instead obeying the rule of one take, one hit when it comes to his particular brand of film-making, Hollywood stalwart, Clint Eastwood, returns after 2016’s Sully, with The 15:17 to Paris, a somewhat similar tale of heroism and the remarkable workings of the human spirit, and a movie which features as its’ seat-selling trump card, a trio of leading stars who each portray themselves in attempting to re-tell the widely covered events which occurred upon the titular train on 21 August, 2015. Whilst not exactly the type of character movie executives would tend to disagree with when it comes to the creation of a particular cinematic vision, Eastwood’s bold and brave decision to allow the real heroes of the story to re-enact their own history is one of interesting possibilities, and whilst the tale at the heart of the movie is one of staggering bravery in the face of mindless destruction, The 15:17 to Paris is unfortunately a wildly misjudged mess, a movie which attempts to landfill its’ runtime with elements of backstory and cliched character arcs without any degree of success, and even with a concluding set piece which is undeniably well executed, Eastwood’s latest is a strange case which begs the question whether it was really needed in the first place.
Based on The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers, a true account of events by each of the famous heroes and Jeffrey E. Stern, the movie begins with a somewhat swift and overly jarring diversion into Boyhood-esque territory in which we see the childhood lives of Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler intertwine through tales of school-time shenanigans and dreams of joining the US Military. Whilst the narrative decision to give backstory to each of the heroes may have seemed crucial in understanding at a deeper level the events which take place, the first hour is instead utterly pointless, with the acting abilities and on-screen charisma of both Skarlatos and Sadler completely devoid of any positivity whatsoever, a outcome rather unsurprising when considering the lack of acting experience between them. With this in mind, the obvious decision to allow Stone to be the leading figure of the film does allow some form of success, with his likeable and openly flawed demeanour the main access point for audience involvement, but when the movie does eventually come to its’ taut and tense concluding set piece which brings together each strands of the story set in place, it is unfortunately too late, and for a movie to have only ten minutes of greatness within a runtime of just over ninety minutes, the wait really isn’t worth it at all.