On August 21, 2015, three young American men helped thwart a terrorist attack aboard a Thalys train on its way from Amsterdam to Paris. The whole story just begs to be made into a movie by Clint Eastwood (American Sniper
). And that's just what The 15:17 to Paris
The 15:17 to Paris
follows the three heroes of that fateful train ride - Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Anthony Sadler - through childhood right up until the day that changed their lives forever. In school, all three are problem children, victims of a system that wants to pump them full of ADD drugs instead of teach them how to focus. After graduation, Alek joins the National Guard to become Specialist Alek Skarlatos, Spencer enlists in the U.S. Air Force and is turned into Airman Spencer Stone, while Anthony just heads off to college and stays Anthony Sadler. The three remain best friends, however, and their backpacking trip to Europe leads them to their date with destiny.
The biggest problem with The 15:17 to Paris
is the fact that it picks up when the guys are kids. The screenplay, adapted from Jeffrey Stern's book (co-written with the three young men) by first-time screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal, essentially tries to stretch about twenty minutes worth of story into ninety-five minutes of movie. The result is a film that is packed with padding, showing every single drink and gelato order, every single song in every single nightclub, just about every single banal detail about the guys' lives leading up to their adventure. For much of the film, it's like watching home movies of a college trip through Europe.
The gimmick behind The 15:17 to Paris
is that Eastwood used the real people involved to tell the story; Skarlatos, Stone, and Sadler all play themselves in the movie. On paper, it sounds good. After all, who knows the events of that day better than those who lived them? But in practice, the inexperience of the three leads shows. There are some name actors in the film, most notably Judy Greer (Carrie
) and Jenna Fischer ("The Office") as two of the boys' mothers, but the brunt of the narrative is carried by Skarlatos, Stone, and Sadler, and as actors, they're not up for the task. Their scenes come off more like re-enactments from an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" than they do a feature film from an Oscar-winning director.
Now, the actual scene where the attempted hijacking occurs is pretty enthralling. It's the getting there that is tedious. Eastwood tries to keep the audience engaged by flashing forward to bits of the action that is in store while the rest of the movie wanders around aimlessly. All that does is serve as a tease while the viewer wonders when - or even if - anything is going to happen in the movie.
There's no doubt that the story behind The 15:17 to Paris
is a captivating one. There's also no doubt that it would make a good movie. Heck, it deserves a good movie. Unfortunately, The 15:17 to Paris
is not that good movie.
The blame for The 15:17 to Paris
falls squarely upon the shoulders of director Clint Eastwood. The decision to use the real people involved as actors is a novel one, but it doesn't work. The real Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler are too stiff and don't have enough timing or chemistry to be convincing in their roles (which is interesting, because they're playing themselves and should be comfortable enough with each other to pull it off). The audience actually feels sorry for the guys at times, because the movie is so embarrassingly awkward. The trio is not done any favors by the on-the-nose script, either - their dialogue spells out every thought and emotion in single-syllable words, as if it feels like it has to spoon feed the story to the viewer. On the whole, the movie winds up seeming a lot like an amateur production or a student film. The 15:17 to Paris
is a failed experiment in extreme docudrama cinema.