The 15:17 to Paris aims to recount the story of Spencer Stone, Alex Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler and their heroic efforts onboard a train, headed to Paris, to stop a gunman. However, rather than a story of service and heroism, the audience falls victim to a drawn out, aimless, and unemotional assault.
While many reviews of this film are quick to praise the actions of these men, and I join them in that sentiment, it is important to take The 15:17 to Paris for what it is and to judge it accordingly, just like any other movie. Unfortunately, 15:17 fails to meet expectations and to portray what happened on that train. Much of the film focuses on the characters long before they are on that train, with a special emphasis on Spencer Stone. Alex Skarlatos assumes a supporting role and Anthony Sadler’s involvement is minimal.
The film begins in Sacramento, when these men are still kids and in school, portrayed by child actors. Stone and Skarlatos are childhood friends and do everything together. Quickly, however, they start to get into trouble at their Christian school and are sent to the Principal’s office. There, they meet Sadler, who is a regular at the office, and they befriend each other.
Stone and Skarlatos, but Stone in particular, apparently have an obsession with wearing camo clothing. They also pretend to be soldiers, have a large collection of airsoft guns, and have battles with them. As time goes on, Sadler goes to public school and Skarlatos moves to Oregon. Stone is left on his own.
The kids grow up and start to think about life. After giving a servicemember a free smoothie at Jamba Juice, Spencer Stone decides to enlist. His lack of determination soon gets in the way and causes problems and Stone fails to get the job he wants with the Air Force. Still, in the Air Force, he continues his training and learns other skills, but he falls short. At several points, the audience is subjected to Stone’s complaining about not getting things his way.
Meanwhile, Skarlatos is in the National Guard and has already been deployed to Afghanistan. Stone expresses jealously in this. Sadler is a university student in Sacramento. After some time, the group decides to meet in Europe and party it up. They waver between whether they should go to Paris or do something else. Stone talks about feeling like he has a greater purpose, but hasn’t realized it. The group settles on going to Paris but adds Amsterdam as a stop on their trip. This will eventually put them on the ill-fated train and, as they say, the rest is history.
Are you still with me?
This film is a collection of scenes that are pushed together, few of them having anything to do with the previous one. For Clint Eastwood, a director who has made some very good movies, The 15:17 to Paris is simply not good. There’s no other way around the fact.
The acting by Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler falls short. They lack emotion and enthusiasm for what they are doing. Many, if not most, of the scenes make it appear as if they are just reading off of cue cards, as they speak and stare into the distance, rarely looking at each other. The writing is amateur and unimaginative. In an effort to portray themselves as regular guys, the trio ends up coming across as uninteresting.
Even in the final scenes, when the young men are on the train and taking down the assailant, they lack emotion. When the events actually took place, there likely would have been a rush of adrenaline and excitement, especially on Stone’s part. But this did not come across on screen.
Skarlatos shows the most hope of beginning an acting career, as he has expressed an interest in doing, but that will require time and practice.
The 15:17 to Paris marks an unfortunate point in Eastwood’s career and would have been better had the story been told and acted by professionals. Short of that, it would have also been better had the film not been made in the first place.
This review was crossposted with The Moderate Voice