'The 15:17 to Paris' Review

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I am convinced that Clint Eastwood did not direct “The 15:17 to Paris”. Somebody named Cliff Eastwood or Clint Eastman – maybe. But not the four-time Oscar-winning director and all-time movie icon.

This is the same man who gave us the incredible “American Sniper” just 3 years ago – and the honorable, well-crafted “Sully” less than 18 months ago. Not to mention some of the most well-respected movies of the past three decades (“Unforgiven”, “Mystic River”, “Million Dollar Baby”). Even some of his recent middle of the road movies still worked (“Invictus”, “J. Edgar”, “Jersey Boys”).

“The 15:17 to Paris” is one of the driest, most misguided and unnecessary movies in quite a long time.

What happened in real-life (the basis for this film) was nothing short of remarkable: In 2015, three American tourists (Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone) prevented what could’ve been a catastrophic terrorist attack when a gunman with multiple weapons and over 300 rounds of ammunition boarded a train heading from Amsterdam to Paris.

But “The 15:17 to Paris” proves what I feared: that this event (which lasted only a few minutes) couldn’t be stretched-out and turned into a compelling, feature-length movie.

For the first 80 minutes of the 90 minute film we get the life stories of these men, from their early struggles as friends in school to their lives as young adults (two choose military careers). After going their separate ways they eventually reunite for a European vacation, which places them on the train on that fateful day.

Most of the problems with “15:17” can be blamed on the dull screenplay by first time feature film screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal (she was a staff assistant on “Sully”). The script is based on the book that these three men co-wrote (with Jeffrey E. Stern). I have no doubt the book is engaging, interesting and emotional – but you don’t get any of that here – no tension, no suspense, no excitement.

The early middle school section is especially weak. Scenes with the usually likable Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer, who play two of the moms, are tough to watch. Jaleel White, Tony Hale and Thomas Lennon – best known for comedies – have very limited roles as prominent figures at the boys’ grade school. It’s all pretty awkward.

Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos
Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos

The big news surrounding the production of “15:17” was Eastwood’s decision to cast the three real-life heroes to play themselves. A gutsy move, indeed. Unfortunately, outside of the final 10 minutes or so, the gimmick doesn’t really work. These guys are not trained actors, and therefore, they simply cannot act.

There are numerous boring conversations filled with corny and convenient dialogue. Add in some odd attempts at subplots and extremely obvious foreshadowing and the result is, well, a mess. One of the friends takes so many photos of himself while on this trip I wanted to reach through the screen and break his selfie stick.

The attack sequence itself is, without question, the highlight of “The 15:17 to Paris”. But it’s not worth suffering through the long, dull journey to get there.

Eastwood is now 87. It will be a shame if he chooses to end his cinematic career with this effort. A part of me wants to believe Eastwood only shot the final, dramatic confrontation scene and is not responsible for anything else. Personally, I’m going to consider “American Sniper” and “Sully” to be his last hoorahs – and, if this is truly the end, I encourage everyone else to do the same.

Jackson Murphy: Emmy Award-winning Film Critic / Entertainment Reporter. Broadcast Film Critics Assoc. (@CriticsChoice), SAG-AFTRA (@SAGAwards)