For a reviewof “The 15: 17 to Paris,”
In the summer of 2015, three young American men from Sacramento, California, boarded a train in Amsterdam, en route to Paris, while enjoying a time- honored rite of passage: a European backpacking trip.
In Brussels, another young man boarded the train, with a backpack full of guns and 300 rounds of ammunition. After tussling with American teacher Mark Moogalian and shooting him in the neck, he found himself in a car with a trio of young Americans filled up with youthful bravado, military training and a desire to not die lying down. What other heady combination could inspire a person to tackle a shirtless man cocking an AK- 47 in a confined space?
When these events happen, especially when the heroes are as appealingly young and attractive as these are, there is the typical fanfare— the awards and decorations, the ticker tape parades, the talk show appearances and even “Dancing With The Stars,” for Alek Skarlatos ( he came in third). Perhaps a book, and maybe even a movie made about you, such as “The 15: 17 to Paris,” directed by Clint Eastwood, adapted for the screen by Dorothy Blyskal.
Eastwood decided to take a leap and go further in his biographical depiction, casting the major players as themselves in this blend of documentary and narrative filmmaking. It’s a risk that doesn’t quite pay off. While the three friends do have their charms on “Ellen” or a late night talk show, their performances in the feature film are essentially an argument for hiring professional actors.
However, the amateur performances aren’t the biggest problem with “The 15: 17 to Paris.” After a while, the awkward line readings fade away, and their natural charisma shines. But for an incident that took about a minute or two, expanding the story to feature length is a stretch, and Blyskal’s script doesn’t know where to focus, and features eye- roll inducing, plainly on- the- nose dialogue.
The film jumps between short moments before the attack and the boys’ upbringing as mischievous kids, obsessed with guns and war and bonding as outsiders at their Christian school. Years later, Spencer joins the Air Force, Alek the Oregon National Guard, and Anthony enters college. There are a few carefully placed scenes illustrating Spencer’s desire to save lives, to be a hero, whether training as a medic or thinking quickly during an active shooter alert. He feels as though life is catapulting him toward a place he needs to be.
The story could have dived into that hunger for action and purpose, or even what drives someone to take a huge risk such as he did, tackling attacker Ayoub El-Khazzani, narrowly escaping death when El- Khazzani’s guns jammed. Rather than searching for inner depth or meaning, it’s written off as fate and the grace of God, while much of the film is spent on shallow and essentially meaningless scenes of the guys sightseeing around Europe— selfies, gelato, beer in Germany, clubbing in Amsterdam. They may be playing themselves, but there’s no real cinematic character development, for the benefit of the audience.
The action sequence on the train is truly remarkable, and Eastwood shoots with a documentary- style immediacy, but the surrounding film — especially the script and performances — doesn’t serve this thrilling true- life story, or the audience. The casting is an interesting experiment, but “The 15: 17 To Paris” fails to ever leave the station.
“The 15: 17 To Paris,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated PG- 13 on appeal for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language. Running time: 94 minutes. ★★
Hollywood studios have recently been pillaging the literary canon of beloved children’s literature, digging up fodder for animated feature films. The best of these, like the “Paddington” movies, successfully meld nostalgia with modern and exciting filmmaking, while the more questionable ones, like the recent “Ferdinand” adaptation, manage to muddle the source material with too many pop songs and dirty jokes. The new “Peter Rabbit” adaptation manages to land right in the middle — the animation technology is top- notch, but the gentle spirit of Beatrix Potter’s books is subsumed into a chaotic, violent mayhem, manically soundtracked to the day’s hits.
Will Gluck directs and cowrote with Rob Lieber this adaptation of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” the story of naughty rabbit Peter ( James Corden), who can’t help but snack from Mr. McGregor’s garden. This version ups the ante significantly in the Garden Wars, especially when Mr. McGregor ( Sam Neill) dies, and his fastidious nephew Thomas ( Domhnall Gleeson) comes to Windermere. Thomas, hoping to sell off his uncle’s property to fund his own toy shop, finds the “vermin” have moved in. And in fact, the anthropomorphized, clothes- wearing wildlife of this country village have hosted quite the produce- fueled rager in the McGregor home.
The photorealistic animation by Animal Logic is truly breathtaking, especially in the first few moments of the film. The rabbits are extraordinarily lifelike, with their individual strands of soft fur and shiny eyes. When Peter hops into the arms of neighbor Bea ( Rose Byrne) for a cuddle, it’s as if she’s holding the actual animal. Gluck showcases the animated creatures with action- packed filmmaking featuring sophisticated camera movements.
But those whiz- bang tracking shots are all put in service of a shockingly savage and brutal war between Peter and his crew ( Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton- Tail, Benjamin Bunny) and the fussy Thomas. At first, Peter just wants to get at those sweet, sweet fruits and veggies. Then it’s simply a matter of proving he can, and ultimately, of displaced jealousy over Thomas’ budding relationship with Bea, whom Peter sees as a mother ( she’s a version of a modernized Potter, talking to and painting her furry friends).
The impish Peter takes the feud entirely too far, and “Peter Rabbit” descends into a truly sadistic display of violence, as poor Gleeson is pounded, pummeled, battered, bruised, electrocuted and exploded at the paws of the brutal bunnies.
There’s a clever little meta streak that runs through “Peter Rabbit,” especially among the wildlife, who snark and joke and talk about their “character flaws,” make war movie references, and “pour one out” for their fallen homie Mr. McGregor, all while bopping along to endless pop and hiphop tunes. There’s a whole essay to be written about the cultural appropriation of gangster rap symbols into this oh- so- twee British property, but this is neither the time nor place.
Ultimately, after the dust has settled, the lesson at hand is one of peaceful coexistence with the environment. The more you try to shut something out, with gates and fences and dynamite, the more it will try to fight back. There’s also a message about owning your actions and taking responsibility ... even if you are a tiny talking bunny-wearing a blue jacket. But when a bunny misbehaves like Peter does, apologies are necessary all around. Perhaps even to the audience of the film.
“Peter Rabbit,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG for some rude humor and action. Running time: 93 minutes. ★★ ½
Colin Moody provides the voice of Benjamin, left, and James Cordon the voice of Peter Rabbit in the Columbia Pictures release “Peter Rabbit.”