Home » New Films: The 15:17 to Paris, Peter Rabbit, Fifty Shades Freed
Film Review

New Films: The 15:17 to Paris, Peter Rabbit, Fifty Shades Freed

The 15:17 to Paris
Directed by Clint Eastwood

As most of you will know, in 2015, three young Sacramentans (Spencer Stone, Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler) tackled and subdued a gunman on a French train. They did this at great personal risk and, in doing so, they prevented what would likely have been significant loss of life and numerous injuries to the passengers and staff of the train, as the gunman was later found to have been carrying more than 300 rounds of ammunition. For these actions, they deserve to be remembered and honored. And they deserved a better film than this.

The problem, in cinematic terms at least, is that the event itself was brief and doesn’t immediately lend itself well to a film adaptation. The obvious comparison is Clint Eastwood’s prior adaptation of heroic, split-second decision making in “Sully,” about the water landing of an airliner on the Hudson River. But that action caused two major outcomes that also formed the basis of good film storytelling: the coordinated rescue of the passengers and crew from the cold water, and the investigation into the cause of the crash and the actions taken by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

Instead, “The 15:17 to Paris” takes us backwards, to the three friends’ childhood, the day that Stone and Skarlatos first met Sadler at school, and primarily Stone’s personally frustrating journey into the military. Much of which is extremely slow and largely unflattering, not helped by the three men appearing as themselves in the film, rather than being played by actors – a bold but problematic choice.

This also leads to unique problems. Stone was injured on the train, including a significant cut to the back of his neck. And throughout the film, prior to the scene in which the wound is inflicted, the scar is visible – leading one to wonder about the choice of loose necklines in the wardrobe t-shirts. Meanwhile, Stone’s military career up to that point is largely depicted as a series of disappointments and failures and the one scene focused on Skarlatos’ time in Afghanistan depicts an error he made in the field. One friend of mine who served in the military felt the film made the military look bad, and the same thing had occurred to me. Indeed, all the observations about the film seemed similar.

It also has the odd effect of making the three young American tourists, wandering almost aimlessly through Europe for a significant period of the film, look relatively clueless. And Paris, generally the most visited and desired city in the world, becomes the destination most in doubt, with the final decision to go based simply on the fact that they had already bought the train tickets.

If the goal in all of this was to make three relatively directionless lives all seem to have sudden meaning in one fateful moment on a train, as reflected in Stone’s sense of being destined for something greater in life, that’s sadly not the way it comes across. It comes across as tedious filler leading up to the big moment. It also seemed to cause people to leave, and/or to wander in and out of the theatre I was in. Which is a shame because the brief scenes on the train are ultimately attention grabbing and inspiring, if you make it that far.

I admire these young men and their actions and I hope that they are remembered for that day on that train, and anything else they might yet achieve, rather than for this sorry mess of a film. That said, if nothing else, it lends perspective to the uniquely remarkable act of charging an armed gunman up the aisle of a fast-moving train. And perhaps that’s the only take-away that really matters.


Peter Rabbit
Directed by Will Gluck

The books of Beatrix Potter were enough of an influence in my childhood that I still think about them at various and inconsistent times as an adult. Recently, while watching “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” I couldn’t help but think that somebody familiar with Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle might have had a hand in the creation of the Caretakers of Luke Skywalker’s island retreat. And last year, when photographing elusive red squirrels in the vicinity of Potter’s home in England’s Lake District, I nostalgically bought a copy of Squirrel Nutkin to commemorate the occasion. Which is largely why it’s so hard for me to appreciate the current film adaptation of “Peter Rabbit.”

And this goes for the “Paddington” films too. There’s something odd about a film adaptation of a book that might cause somebody to pick up the original source material and feel like they had found the wrong thing. “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” was first published in 1901 and is a slim volume about a young rabbit who gets chased through a garden, loses his jacket, and is put to bed by his mother, exhausted, with a cup of chamomile tea. It can be read in little more than the time it takes to fan the pages of one of the distinctive little books. It’s a one-sitting bedtime story for a five year old, not the source material for an action-packed feature film.

Again, as with the Paddington stories, the brand equity generally feels more important than the authenticity of the adaptation. But they’re at their worst when not just the genre shifts, but also the tone. Somehow, during the writing of the film, somebody thought it would be funny to write a scene in which a character is intentionally made to consume food he’s allergic to, causing the onset of anaphylactic shock, followed by the use of a self-administered Epi-Pen as a punch-line to the presumed joke. Not quite the Beatrix Potter I grew up with.

It’s such a different approach to the character that, even as the film was rapidly losing me, I suddenly realized it reminded me in an odd way of something totally different – which perked up my interest as, perhaps, only a film geek like me could be perked up. Peter Rabbit is shown as a young thief and rebel, with little to no impulse control, an iconic jacket, the ability to be heroic when called upon, and with a sidekick who always tends to know better but who goes along anyway (his cousin Benjamin Bunny, pulled from a later book). All of which turns “Peter Rabbit” into an unexpected, rabbit-themed Han Solo origin story! (Watching Domhnall Gleeson as the villain almost inevitably brings “Star Wars” to mind.)

I’m not enough of a curmudgeon to deny that there’s a lot here that will appeal to young viewers looking for a fast adventure story – but some of the content is in questionable taste for that audience and it’s not likely to win tiny converts to the even tinier books. I ended up enjoying the film, but for all the wrong reasons and as a reminder of entirely the wrong character.


Moviebrief

The “Fifty Shades” series is brought to a mercifully swift end this weekend in the awful but brief “Fifty Shades Freed.” It’s the conclusion to a terrible story about characters it’s almost impossible to care about who have absolutely no on-screen chemistry. I haven’t read the books and have to assume they were better, given both their popularity and how bad the films are. There are obviously limitations to what can be shown in a film, but to have made three films based on books that were raved about for their eroticism and bondage, and to have ended up with a series of sex scenes that play like the cues to get up and make a sandwich is quite an accomplishment. Freed indeed.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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