The 15:17 To Paris is the true story of 3 Americans – Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone (each playing themselves) – who, while on a European vacation, recognized and stopped a terrorist attack on a train en route to Paris. But before we get to that, we learn how these three life-long friends met, became so close, and how two of the three became soldiers to put them on this heroic path.
We spend a good chunk of the movie on the boys’ childhood in a Christian junior high, getting to know one another and being troublemakers together. As teens, Spencer dreams of becoming a soldier but has the problem of being too overweight to get in. He busts his ass to drop the weight and make the cut, though not in the job he wants. He rolls with it, though, to be the best he can be. The guys plan a trip to Europe to unwind and have a once-in-a lifetime experience, which turns out to be just that: heroically saving passengers onboard the 15:17 to Paris from a would-be terrorist attack.
As a film 15:17 To Paris is, to be blunt, boring. People come to see this movie for the reasons the trailer told us to: it’s a true story of heroism using not actors to tell the story, but the actual heroes themselves to re-enact their deed. That’s it. That’s why we came to see this… but what we get is a poorly paced, poorly acted look at the lives of the three men, starting from childhood and going through to their heroic deed.
But why? Does anyone really care about their upbringing? How they became friends? That one of them had to lose weight to achieve his dream of being a soldier? That one of them used the European trip to feel more connected to his forefathers? This film never asks the biggest question and never hints at larger answers. While I can’t speak for all moviegoers, I never cared at all. Yet that’s what this movie is about.
The script by newcomer Dorothy Blyskal is just awful. The pacing is incredibly slow, the story structure is weak, and the dialogue is simply horrible. Not helping is the decision to have a trio of non-actors as leads and you end up with an unbearably dull film.
I’m confounded by director Clint Eastwood’s decision to cast the real soldiers as themselves. It’s sort of a “thank you for your service” gimmick taken way too far. Every choice made in this film – from casting choices, to the slow-paced story structure, to adlibs in dialogue, to the long static shots – make me question Eastwood’s choices. He’s unquestionably done fantastic work in the past, but this movie was amateur hour on par with a high school A/V club’s weekend project.
The only redeeming moment of The 15:17 To Paris was the thing we all came to see – the stopping of a terrorist. It was the only scene in the whole 94-minutes that felt like professionals had finally taken the reigns. But we have to wait until the end of the film for that to even happen. This is a pretty terrible film that will probably enjoy some initial success owing to its gimmick and clever marketing campaign, but I can’t imagine it’ll have legs afterwards. If you’re desperate to see how the main ‘event’ played out, just wait until it ends up streaming later in the year.