Separated by circumstances beyond their control, three childhood friends reunite as grown men for a European vacation. But when they stumble upon a terrorist plot aboard a train, they’ll prove themselves the heroes they always wanted to be…in The 15:17 to Paris.
Directed by Clint Eastwood and based on a true story, the sad truth about The 15:17 to Paris is that it’s less a feature film and more an extended series of dramatic reenactments.
Largely centered around a man by the name of Spencer Stone, the movie chronicles the lives of three American-born heroes (Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler) who struggled to find their place and purpose in the world, family drama, and various personal shortcomings. Stone was once a troubled young man often in trouble at school and dreamed of joining the military as a paratrooper. But after he’s denied his dream job for failing a vision exam, Stone continues to drift about in the military until chance placed him and his friends on that train one fateful day in Europe.
And if that sounds like a rather simple story, that’s because it is. The 15:17 to Paris is, for some reason, not that interesting of a movie. Nor is it a very good one.
For one, Eastwood decided that the lead roles should be filled by the three real-life heroes themselves rather than actors. Of course, this leads to all sorts of issues where everyone but the three leads have to somehow make up for the persistent lack of screen presence or acting talent once the movie shifts from the boy’s earlier years to young adulthood. Not that the child actors are much better. There’s more life to them. A better grasp of their lines and how to emote and project. But while they clearly have some degree of acting training and ability, their lack of experience is obvious at all times. And a part of me wants to believe this was some strange effort by Eastwood to maintain some semblance of continuity between the younger and older versions of the characters. But if that were the case, it only made things much, much worse as the characters go from respectably normal boys to wholly awkward and ineffectual human beings who speak and act like they’re the understudies in a high school play.
But what’s even stranger than this decision was Eastwood’s choice of supporting cast. A lot of the adults in the first half of the film are portrayed by notable comedic actors–Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Jaleel White, Thomas Lennon, Tony Hale. And while they all play their roles fine enough, especially Greer in her role as Spencer Stone’s mother, Joyce, it’s rather jarring to see such a collection of comedians in a movie that is every bit as serious and dry as it emotionally flat.
And between the comedic talent going to waste and whatever is supposed to pass for acting by the rest of the cast, I wasn’t sure if even Eastwood himself was taking the movie seriously. Because beyond the cast and the non-acting, the movie has little to say or do most of the time. There’s no conflict, no drama. At best, there’s the paper-thin plot of Spencer Stone struggling to find his place in the world, to become the hero he always wanted to be but always found himself lacking in one fashion or another. But much of the time is spent slowly wading through Stone’s early life as a mildly troublesome young boy who struggled in school, touching very lightly upon the lives of Skarlatos and Sadler, Stone’s aimless life before the military, and then boring scene after pointless scene of his European vacation before the all-too brief and shockingly lifeless conflict aboard the titular train to Paris. The movie never spends enough time on any particular time or moment in the boys’ lives to make us care much about them. It’s as if we’re receiving bullet-points of their lives rather than an understanding of it. As if the movie is in a rush to get to get to the events on the train–so much so that scenes of the pre-struggle moments on the train are inexplicably sprinkled throughout the film. But once we board the train, this slow, disinterested, long-winded buildup culminates in a brief scuffle that lacks in both excitement and tension. It ends almost as fast as it begins. And then the movie moves on to an equally disinterested, flat epilogue that lasts longer than the fight itself.
Eastwood is not a director known for such flat, lifeless movies. His filmography is filled by film after film of gritty, grounded character drama. Of tragic figures and broken heroes. In fact, most of his films since Million Dollar Baby have been adaptations of real life events and stories, from Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers to Sully and American Sniper. And while it’s true that some of his movies have missed the mark in some fashion or another, the collective shortcomings across his entire filmography pale in comparison to the glaring issues present solely in The 15:17 to Paris. It’s poorly acted, poorly paced, poorly structured, the dialog is forgettable at best and asinine at worst, dramatics and theatrics are forgone for the sake of exposition and pointless banter, and the central selling point of the film is reduced to one of the most underwhelming cinematic experiences put on film. In fact, the climax of this movie is so poorly executed that it may very well have you forgetting that this is based on very real horrifying event that nearly ended in total tragedy.
In a way, The 15:17 to Paris reminds me of the overly simplistic rides found in Disney’s Fantasyland. The ones intended for very young children in which you slowly drift down a hallway filled with cardboard cutouts of a classic Disney movie like Peter Pan. No speed, no real twists or turns. No excitement. No depth. Just familiar sights and sounds that very loosely resemble the real thing. It takes too long to get to the end, it misses the point, but, yes, it still technically gives you an idea of what it was supposed to be. It’s not good. It’s not unwatchable. But there’s absolutely no reason to experience it unless you’ve been left with little choice in the matter.
This true act of heroism is one that demands a better movie. Unfortunately, all it gets is The 15:17 to Paris. And The 15:17 to Paris is a definite NO CHILL.