The 15:17 to Paris marks the end of an unofficial trilogy for director Clint Eastwood. From American Sniper to Sully to this, true acts of heroism fascinates Eastwood. And it’s been a very lucrative fascination as both Sniper and Sully were huge hits at the box office.
But those films had movie stars backing them in Bradley Cooper and Tom Hanks. This time around, Eastwood decided to use the actual men; Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone, to tell the true story of how they thwarted a potential terrorist attack aboard a train bound for Paris in 2015.
To use the real heroes is a truly ambitious endeavor. For a man pushing 90, you have to admire Eastwood’s continued passion for filmmaking (He still cranks out a movie every two years) as well as taking risks such as this.
Unfortunately, the decision to use ordinary men instead of actors, as well as a dismal script, undermine what could have been a compelling film.
At 94 minutes, The 15:17 to Paris is Eastwood’s shortest film. But it feels twice as long. For the first 75 minutes, Eastwood attempts to develop them from their childhood struggles through finding their footing in adulthood.
“Struggles” is a loose term because this story defines it as not paying attention in class and failing to have a hall pass. Minor offenses like these lead to transferring schools and in one case, a boy being removed from his mother to live with his father in another state. Seriously, the teachers in this movie are ridiculous to the point where there should be a formal investigation into their abilities as educators. That or there’s more to the story and Eastwood just glossed over it to get to the train.
But we can’t get to the train just yet because it’s important that we see the three men figure out what to do with their lives. Actually, Eastwood and screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal seem to only care about Stone’s story as Skarlatos is barely seen and Sadler is basically reduced to the token black friend role.
I can see why they chose to focus on Stone. Of the three men, he’s the only one with even an ounce of acting chops. I hate writing these words because the three men should be celebrated, but by having them portray themselves, Eastwood has turned an ambitious gamble into a poorly-conceived gimmick.
For being friends in real life, the three men have little to no chemistry on screen. It doesn’t help that Blyskal’s script (Her first credited screenplay) is cringe-worthy at times.
“Let’s go outside and play,” says one kid to another. Kids don’t say that. In another scene the three men wake up after a night of partying in Amsterdam. “Last night, man,” one says. After a few beats another replies, “Wow. Last night was crazy.” Other clunky lines include, “Words are painful” and “Three California kids in Italy, what are the chances?”
Nothing seems natural or authentic. Even professionally trained actors like Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer have trouble delivering their lines. It doesn’t help that Eastwood is notorious for only doing a couple of takes before moving on. He’s the last person who should be directing a movie with a terrible script and non-actors.
When the three men eventually do meet up in Europe, the film turns into a boring travel log. Let’s take endless selfies. How about some gelato. Let’s take a bicycle trip. The movie basically turns into an Instagram feed.
Finally, we arrive on the train and for the final 15 minutes, The 15:17 to Paris is exciting and compelling. Eastwood shoots in a documentary style akin to Paul Greengrass that really elevates the suspense. The takedown of the terrorist is thrilling and terrifying and the ending is a great celebration of the four men (There was a fourth guy on the train).
But everything that precedes this finale is an unmitigated disaster. Despite the short length, the first 75 minutes is nothing bit tepid filler where nothing even remotely interesting happens. There’s a hint of a Christian bent to the story. But that’s eventually forgotten and it really highlights how unfocused and shallow the script truly is.
We love stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But if you look beyond their shining moment and there’s nothing worth telling, then you’re just patronizing them instead of celebrating them.