In a sense “The 15:17 to Paris” is a tough movie to criticize. It’s a biographical drama/thriller based on the true story of three Americans and their tremendous acts of heroism aboard a train bound for Paris from Amsterdam. Here’s the catch, the film stars the actual three heroes playing themselves. Director and producer Clint Eastwood offers them an opportunity to tell their story which is a great thing. But this is no documentary and none of the three are professional actors. This opens the door for criticisms you simply can’t avoid.
The friendships between Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos date back to their elementary school days as rambunctious outcasts. Later the three would go their separate ways, Stone becoming an Air Force staff sergeant, Sadler studying kinesiology at California State, and Skarlatos a National Guard specialist serving in Afghanistan. Despite being separated by thousands of miles they always stayed connected.
In 2015 the three buddies reunite to backpack across Europe. This eventually (and I emphasize ‘eventually’) leads to what the movie’s title refers to and what we actually see in the trailers. In Amsterdam they board a Thalys train to Paris for the last leg of their trip. Also onboard is a terrorist armed with an assault rifle, a pistol, and nearly 300 rounds of ammunition. The actions of Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos to thwart the attack would save countless innocent lives.
The film’s advertising leans on the events aboard the train, but the movie itself spends little time there. Eastwood and first-time screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal spend a chunk of the movie highlighting Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos’ childhood. The young unknowns portraying them flounder mightily. Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer add some acting credentials playing struggling single moms, but even they fall victim to one of the movie’s biggest problems – a script desperately grasping for anything resembling authenticity. Line after line of uninspired dialogue feels as if it’s being read from a page than coming from within the characters.
We see this elsewhere when Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos take to the screen. They too suffer due to a script which inadvertently accentuates their lack of acting chops. But Eastwood is no help either. His stars could understandably use some direction, but Eastwood seems to be working in a hands-off mindset. That may work with seasoned talent but here it results in performances that are dry, sheepish and borderline excruciating. Toss in tons of cringe-worthy buddy banter and it only gets worse.
The film takes us through a drawn out middle act that turns into some kind of weird European travelogue. I’m pretty sure it’s meant to emphasize the camaraderie between these three pals, but it’s so bland and pasted together with practically no attention given to what makes these guys tick. We get some beautiful sites, two wedged in and then tossed aside female characters, a pointless (and annoying) nightclub scene, and a ludicrous amount of selfies before the three finally board the train.
It’s here that the movie finally gets on track (no pun intended). The train sequence unfolds with the right amount of intensity and Eastwood’s camera maneuvers through the tight quarters capturing the terror and the heroism. And interestingly Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos are at their best in these scenes. Perhaps they feel more in their element or maybe Eastwood is actually offering meaningful direction. It almost saves the movie. Sadly it comes an hour too late.
It’s a chore trying to carve an identity out of “The 15:17 to Paris”. Is it a faith-based drama, a coming of age story, an action thriller? I’m guessing it wants to be a little of all. Unfortunately Clint Eastwood’s finished product is a well-intended but surprisingly awkward misfire. Only the last 30 minutes felt like the tribute these three courageous young men deserved. I really enjoyed the last act and kept thinking to myself that their real story was just getting started. Too bad we couldn’t start there instead.
VERDICT – 2 STARS
Great review. My thoughts exactly. I’m having trouble reviewing this movie because I’m so perplexed by the film. I mean….no one will ever deny what Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos did and the courage they displayed on the train during the real life event. That being said, the film itself was poorly executed and only the last 20 minutes felt important. The characterizations of the three are also weak as we (the viewers) never get a sense of Sadler and Skarlatos (only Stone) and the whole travelogue scene through Europe was painful and boring to watch. I was hoping that this movie going to be good, but it ended disappointingly for me.
Thanks man. It’s really tough, right? To be honest this is probably more like a 1 star movie. But I did really like that last 20 minutes. That’s the only point in the film where you can actually see Eastwood directing those guys. But the rest is just dreadful, at times stunningly bad. How some of that dialogue made it from page to screen is mind-boggling. And as you mentioned, there is practically no character depth at any point in the movie.
I probably blew what little credibility I may have had reviewing movies. It probably doesn’t deserve 2 stars. But I kept thinking those guys deserved better and their story was an incredible one. Unfortunately the movie only makes 20 minutes even remotely worthwhile.
Great review Keith! I’m still interested in seeing this, but it sounds how I expected it to be. There’s definitely going to issues when your main cast aren’t actually actors!
Thank you! I expected mediocre acting, but this is absolutely cringe-worthy. And a lot of it is not the fault of the cast. I didn’t expect such an awful script. I mean it’s horrible and it gives those guys absolutely nothing to work with. And Eastwood’s direction is practically nonexistent until the last 20 minutes.
I do like Clint Eastwood but I’m going to skip it unless I’m planning on do an Auteurs piece on him in the future which will probably be in a few years.
Good call. Not one you should feel compelled to see. It’s such a mess. I wasn’t expected a lot but I had no idea it would turn out like this.
This one definitely isn’t for me. I can’t stop thinking about what it must feel like to relive something like that for the camera?
I didn’t think of that. That’s definitely something to consider. As for the movie I still really like Eastwood, but this was a huge misfire.
It’s such a surprise this film has become something of a derailment too. What is it with underwhelming dramas set on locomotives this year? Though I say ‘such a surprise’ given Mr. Eastwood’s usually reliable sense of delivering heroes in a nuanced and often understated ways. 15:17 to Paris is getting panned for its unconvincing storytelling, acting and the decision to use the real-life figures. An interesting approach I thought. Too bad it didn’t pay off. Not sure if I want to even see this anymore.
It’s pretty abysmal. I gave it a charity 1/2 star just for liking the real story and the guys behind it. But movie-wise, it’s horrid minus the last twenty minutes.
I agree with those criticisms you mentioned except I’m not really opposed to using the real figures. They just need a lot more direction and a script that doesn’t highlight their lack of acting talent. Clint doesn’t seem to be directing them at all until the last act and the script isn’t even functional much less helpful for them. In fact you could put three wonderful, seasoned actors in their places and the film would only be marginally better. Sigh…
I haven’t seen this yet but I do find it a very strange choice on Eastwood’s part to cast the actual men whose story we’re being told. In part because they’re not actors but also because surely there is no way they could authentically convey the emotions, reactions etc. of what happened primarily because they’d already lived through them. They’d already done it for real. Doing it again would be inherently artificial. I suppose you could argue that they’d know what happened so could recreate it but again, these aren’t actors. I know my reaction to a car crash, for example, would be very different between the real thing and if someone asked me to pretend it was happening. Unless acting is THAT easy – I’m not sure seasoned actors would agree! Think I’ll give this one a miss.
Great points. Here is the funny thing, those guys were their best during those train scenes. Granted, that’s not saying much, but they seemed much more comfortable. But honestly you could cast Hollywood’s best and they couldn’t bail out that horrible script.
I’m with you on this. I caught it at the weekend… although I can’t really criticise the three guys for their performances, given they’re probably better than you’d expect considering their lack of any prior experience or training, I don’t think Eastwood made the right call in casting them and I don’t think he gets particularly good performances from any of the professionals he uses. Also, it must have been fairly traumatic to reenact the scenes, particularly on board the train, so overall I think those guys did really well. The rest of it, as you point out, is pretty dreary. I think a documentary would have been better, or a professionally-cast drama along the same lines as Sully.
Both examples you gave would have been better – a documentary or a Sully styled drama. And you can’t really blame the three of them. But it does seem Eastwood didn’t do much directing except in the last 20 minutes. He kinda left those guys high-and-dry.