Clint Eastwood is making a trend of turning heroic, true events into feature-length films, and The 15:17 to Paris is another example of such a tendency. But, in a surprise move, Eastwood and Warner Bros. hired the real heroes to act in the film, further blurring the lines between reality and cinema. The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Clint Eastwood
Written By: Dorothy Blyskal
Starring: Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Alex Skarlatos, Jenna Fischer, and Judy Greer
On August 21, 2015, three young men boarded the Thalys train #9364 bound for Paris in the middle of their backpacking trip through Europe. On board, the men encountered and prevented an attempted terrorist attack by a single assailant, saving countless lives on the train.
Through their earlier years that included some background in the armed forces, we see what prepared these three individuals for this act of heroism, and how ordinary citizens can rise up and do the extraordinary in times of need.
Back in April of 2017, it was announced that Clint Eastwood would direct a screenplay from Dorothy Blyskal based on the book The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story. While reports initially pointed towards Kyle Gallner, Jeremie Harris, and Alexander Ludwig to star as the three heroes, word later came out that Eastwood had cast Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone to play themselves in the film. This move certainly put more eyes on The 15:17 to Paris as its release date drew closer (much to the pleasure of Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow).
As for the event itself, the assailant that the trio stopped had over 300 rounds of ammunition on his person. If not for these men, 500 lives aboard the Thalys train #9364 could have been lost. For their actions, the men received the Legion of Honour, France’s highest decoration for military and civil merits.
However, the casting stunt caused people to have one thought on their minds: how well can these guys act?
The 15:17 to Paris Includes an Earnest Story About Everyday Heroes
At its core, The 15:17 to Paris is very well-intentioned. As the film attempts to pay its respects to the these three heroic men, there’s a clear understanding of how courageous these men were during the attack.
While on the train, there’s a very hectic nature to the film that is almost anxiety-inducing, putting the audience right in the middle of the fray. There’s a strong visceral impact that, if viewed in vacuum (i.e. if you watched the clip of the train attack on YouTube), would be very affecting. Clint Eastwood knows how to direct gut-wrenching, true events given the rest of his filmography as a director, and he shows his skills in that small timeframe.
For everything surrounding the actual event, well, that’s an entirely different story.
Bad Acting Sinks the Movie, and it’s Clint Eastwood’s Fault
Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone are not actors, and The 15:17 to Paris exploits their deficiencies at every turn. The trio of heroes come off as amateur stage actors, doing their best to just get through each scene while remembering all of their lines. They’re so focused with the basic elements of acting that they’re very wooden, showing little charisma whatsoever.
However, no one should blame these three for their performances. Anyone that chastises these men is horribly misguided. After all, they’ve never acted before — what do you expect from first-time actors in a film with a wide release across the United States?
The main culprit behind this debacle is Clint Eastwood himself. The legendary film figure is well-known for his hands-off directing approach, moving production along as quickly as possible and filming each scene in as few takes as possible. He doesn’t give many notes to his actors, either. When you have an experienced actor like Tom Hanks at your disposal, you can get away with this approach. But, when the film’s stars are individuals that have never acted before, you’re asking for disaster.
The poor performances even extend to the child actors that play younger versions of the three heroes, showing that Eastwood just didn’t connect with anyone on set. Some of the child actors have given solid performances in other films, proving that they’re much better than their performances in The 15:17 to Paris would indicate.
Eastwood set his actors up for failure, and it results in some painfully awkward scenes of dialogue between the cast members. With poor writing thrown into the mix as well, you can’t help but feel bad for everyone involved.
Contains Out-of-Touch Direction and Characterization
The acting is a very noticeable problem with The 15:17 to Paris, even to the untrained eye. However, it’s the script of the film that sinks the ship. In a 94-minute film, there is approximately sixty minutes of storytelling. In an attempt to offer a look into what kind of person each of these individuals were leading up to their acts on the train, The 15:17 to Paris resorts to showing these three strolling through Europe on an excursion with no consequences or additions to the story. They meet a random American that quickly leaves the picture, eat ice cream, and take selfies. The film forces Alex Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Anthony Sadler to fill in the gaps with banter, but (once again) you can’t expect untrained actors to carry a movie in such a manner. Before the train sequence ever occurs, you’re already checked out of the film.
The film bizarrely covers the lives of these three individuals in such a brief period of time that you never get a solid understanding of these men. In that regard, The 15:17 to Paris fails to achieve its main goal as a movie.
The 15:17 to Paris is one of those movies where it feels like a 50-year-old wrote dialogue for characters in their 20’s, writing with a misguided and stereotypical view of how younger people behave. Filled with selfies and a pop song that stopped being popular months ago, you get the sense that these men are caricatures of their actual selves. With such a script, you feel a sense of apathy as these heroes reenact their brave actions — that’s the worst possible emotion to attach to such an inspiring act of bravery.
The 15:17 to Paris deserves a lot of praise for its earnest intentions in portraying a heroic event that honors its real-life subjects (and actors) by culminating to the idea that ordinary individuals can rise up and achieve greatness. However, the story as presented is a mess. Clint Eastwood does nothing to help his first-time actors as the film exploits their weaknesses as untrained individuals, trapping them in a dialogue-heavy narrative that aimlessly moves from point A to point B with zero life.
The amazing true story of these three men is reduced to a borderline unwatchable backpacking trip — The 15:17 to Paris diminishes the heroic acts of Spencer Stone, Alex Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler.
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