Nothing is without purpose in Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris. With the real life heroes playing themselves the film is anything but authentic. What Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler did is nothing short of heroic, that’s indisputable. However, it’s clear the authenticity of The 15:17 to Paris begins and ends with that casting choice. Eastwood is known for his recent films that depict American Heroes. Sully and American Sniper being the most recent examples. Yet, unlike those films, Eastwood has crafted a film with no cohesiveness or flow. At just over 90 minutes, it feels like forever before we get to the best part of the movie. Even it’s admittedly thrilling final act isn’t enough to save the poorly scripted and badly acted moments that come before it.
The films events take place around the heroics of Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler subduing a Moroccan gunman, Ayoub El Khazzani, with terrorist ties. Carrying nearly 300 rounds of ammunition, the man appears to have attempted to take the lives of those on the high speed train going from Amsterdam to Paris. Stone thrust himself towards the gunman facing death down the barrel of an AK assault rifle. The sequence is far and away the best part of the film. Eastwood and his director of photography film the attack in a gritty and thrilling manner. Unfortunately, everything that has come before the films waining minutes is so sloppy and poorly crafted.
It isn’t Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler’s fault their performances aren’t good. They’re not actors. But it isn’t even that they aren’t actors. No matter how good your script is, it’s very hard to capture the chemistry of friends when they’re told they have to re-create the moments depicted in their film for an audience. It’s a valiant attempt and on the surface level, they are able to convey some chemistry, albeit sparse. Mainly, it isn’t their fault their performances lack, it’s Dorothy Blyskal’s abhorrent screenplay.
Blyskal’s debut screenplay is so lack of any dialogue that feels real, the movie succumbs to making real events feel like they are fake. Filled with cliched moments, you can practically predict what each person is going to say next. Perhaps the best example is an early confrontation with two of the films professionally casted actors, Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer, having a conversation with a teacher. The teacher speaks in such an unprofessional manner the scene is uncomfortable to watch. Whether you believe kids are or have been over medicated as a result of ADD is irrelevant here. No one speaks the way this particular teacher speaks. It’s a common theme in The 15:17 to Paris.
It’s entirely possible Clint read the script and got excited. For all of his great films, if there is one thing he lacks as a filmmaker is nuance. Fittingly, there is no subtlety to this script. Aside from the hollow dialogue on display, the films themes often feel incredibly heavy handed. Rather than opting for more realistic dialogue, the script feels the need to explain to the audience how each character feels and does what they do. Growing up going to a catholic school, the boys (portrayed as their younger selves by younger actors) bond over playing “war” in the woods with toy guns. Spencer in particular uses his faith as a guiding principal for his life. Brotherhood, faith and independence are terrific themes often used very well in films. Here, everything is so shoehorned in it leaves no stone unturned. Even the foreshadowing leaves no surprise for the films climax. Spencer is seen learing first aid and wound care as well as jiu jitsu. Of course, all of these things come in handy when subduing the gunman on the train at the end of the film. \
After we see the films first 50 minutes or so, which essentially play out as a military recruitment video, the film spends the second act as a tourism advertisement. For an absurd amount of time, we follow Spencer and Anthony, later Alek, through their European excursion. Nothing in these scenes benefit the overall film in anyway. Maybe it’s supposed to make us relate to the characters more? Regardless, even if that’s the goal, it’s unnecessary. These guys are American heroes, we are already on their side. They go to dance clubs, drink beer in Germany and woo a fellow Californian woman in Italy. It all builds to moments like Spencer telling Anthony on a balcony over looking the gorgeous Venice cityscape saying he feels life is “catapulting” him towards a greater purpose. If you rolled your eyes you’re not alone.
The film does end on a high note and shows the promise that this material has. This is an incredible story. There might have been much more emotional weight and gravitas to the movie’s thrilling ending if it wasn’t for the boring 75 minutes that precede it. The sequence on the train, which we are shown glimpses of frequently during the film, is pulse pounding, visceral and extremely exciting to watch. It has more energy and purpose than the rest of the film combined. Eastwood tones down the films overarching themes to give it a fly on the wall quality. Something he did very well in Sully. The most disappointing aspect of all this is that even this superb piece of the film never completely redeems the film.
The Americanism Eastwood is certainly known for in his films is on full display here. He has shown his contempt for bureaucracy in his previous two films. With characters always fighting against said bureaucracies in his films, it leads the aforementioned lack of any nuanced approach to his works. Maybe he doesn’t care; and that’s fine. None of those sentiments make The 15:17 to Paris any less dull than it is. In the end, most will leave the theater having seen a film that much like El Khazzani’s weapon, gets jammed, and never fires like it should. The film is a truly baffling missed opportunity.
“The 15:17 to Paris”
Cast: Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Thomas Lennon, P.J. Byrne
Director: Clint Eastwood
Runtime: 94 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language.)