The 15:17 to Paris tells the amazing true story of three Americans that are faced with a terrorist threat on board the Thalys train. Directed by Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood (in his 36th directed film), The 15:17 to Paris isn’t trying to be just another docudrama of geopolitical events, in fact, the movie has almost nothing to do with the politics of the situation, this attempts to portray the events in the most realistic manner possible going as far to casting the real-life heroes to play themselves. It is clear Eastwood has admiration for the material and for the men involved. One could argue almost too much.
Eastwood attempts to craft a movie similar to his previous film, Sully. Sully dealt with the Miracle on the Hudson and the aftermath that fell before pilot Captain Sully. Meanwhile 15:17 to Paris is about everything before the events on the Thalys train and how the three American friend’s own lives led to this moment. The structure of Sully really hides the thinness of the material showing the Miracle of the Hudson from different perspectives and showcases a great performance by Tom Hanks. Sully barely works but never the less was an all-around solid film that recreated the events of the Miracle of the Hudson with startling accuracy.
15:17 to Paris doesn’t work. Whereas Sully’s structure hides the thinness of the story, the structure of 15:17 to Paris showcases the thinness of the material. The Thalys train attack wasn’t an elongated event and 15:17 to Paris doesn’t deal much with it until roughly the last 10 minutes of the movie. The decision to tell the story leading up to the Thalys train attack makes the movie a mostly dull and uneventful watch. Then, Eastwood doesn’t seem to make much of the actual terrorist attack making the entire build-up feel unearned and wasted.
Oddly enough the biggest concerned I had going into his movie didn’t end up being a major issue. My biggest concerned was Eastwood’s decision to cast the real-life people as themselves. Nothing against them as people, they just aren’t actors and they have to carry the movie. Casting non-actors has worked in the past (Miracle and Apocalypto) but it has also gone really wrong. The biggest example of this mistake is Act of Valor. The movie was widely advertised with real Navy Seals in the lead roles and, surprise, they could not act.
But I digress, the three leads, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone are solid playing themselves. I would still say real actors would have been the way to go but the trio is better than expected and are fine at the center of the movie. They are all likable. Eastwood is wise to give them material that they can handle and never asks too much of them.
The biggest weakness of the movie is from the screenplay by Dorothy Blyskal (in her big screen debut screenplay). Blyskal populates the screenplay with cliché and corny dialogue. The dialogue doesn’t feel natural, almost robotic in its nature (especially the dialogue given to the trio’s younger selves). There isn’t any flow or snap to the dialogue and the film’s “comedic” moments fall flat as well. The choice to focus this story nearly exclusively on the trio’s childhood and vacation leading up to the Thalys train attack hinders the movie. For a while, this feels like an elongated vacation film where we are watching people we don’t know go around Europe. 15:17 tries to illustrate how small events in someone’s life lead to one big moment. But, these small moments the movie tries to show are far and few between and feel trivial.
This isn’t helped by Eastwood’s direction and editing choices of the Thalys train attacks. We get brief glimpses throughout the movie leading up the “main event” (as if to remind us that are actually in the correct theater) which completely takes away from the actual set piece. By the time we get to the set piece Eastwood has already shown us some of his cards and is left with very little to show which shortens the attack and heroic defense in what feels like just a minute long. This makes all that build up feel really wasted.
The approach taken with 15:17 to Paris really doesn’t work. The movie is too trivial and plays like a second-rate coming of age story with a brief terrorist attack at the end. Perhaps if 15:17 to Paris actually focused on the terrorist attack and was about multiple people on the train, similar to Eastwood’s approach on Sully, there would be a much better movie here. There is a surprising lack of tension in the movie and the passengers lack characterization (despite Eastwood’s brief attempts to give them some). Maybe, a movie simply inspired by the real events would have been best, allowing the film to break free of its “historical accuracy hold” and just make a tight thriller instead.
15:17 to Paris feels like a movie that director Paul Greengrass would thrive at (Captain Phillips and United 93). The real-life story surrounding this movie and the heroics of Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone is a story that deserves to be told but I don’t know if a movie was the place to do it (at the very least, it isn’t this movie). 15:17 to Paris is a dull and lifeless movie and a disappointing turn from director Clint Eastwood.