The 15:17 to Paris Review

The 15:17 to Paris is a true to life thriller about three Americans who discover a terrorist plot aboard a train while in France.

It’s an interesting choice having the subjects of a real life story portray themselves in their own story, but certainly not unheard of. Plenty of stars and athletes have done so, but here, it’s sort of unprecedented as director Clint Eastwood casts untrained unprofessionals to play themselves in a story that is absolutely deserving of being told. While they themselves do what they can, much of the movie fails to click, failing to inspire as it should in a bland and obvious retelling of a great act of heroism.

Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos (played young by William Jennings and Bryce Gheisar) are best friends in Catholic middle school, enjoying dressing up in military clothes and causing some mostly low level mischief. Their shenanigans get them sent to the Principal’s office a number of times where they run into fellow troublemaker Anthony Sadler (Paul-Mikél Williams). The trio soon bond but eventually, their friendships are tested as their behaviors at school separate them. Eventually Spencer (now played by the real Spencer Stone) and Alek (Alek Skarlatos) fulfill their dreams to enter the military, both facing hardships, though Spencer especially greatly challenged. Later, the two join Anthony (Anthony Sadler) on a backpacking trip across Europe where on a train from Amsterdam to Paris, they encounter a terrorist armed to the teeth, looking to kill everyone on board. Time to act.

The first half of the film is dedicated to the three children, with Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer as Skarlatos and Stone’s struggling devoutly religious mothers, coping with a school that seems aggressively intent on hindering every aspect of the boy’s development, aside from the history teacher (Jaleel White) that encourages their militarism and patriotism  and as seen directly in class, the need to react when you need to (in a blink or you’ll miss it moment). This first act is a real stumbling block as it placates entirely into developing the kind of personalities these three men show in the face terror, and it’s jarringly in your face, like a sappy made for TV movie of the week, with scene after scene painting the youngsters as harassed by authority and bullies, their mothers told to medicate them to keep them in line. It’s hopelessly manufactured.

READ MORE: Review of Clint Eastwood‘s Sully

The film is a host of painfully direct moments that fall into neatly cut spaces, offering no chance to really feel any sense of depth or kinship to the men, who are in all respects genuine heroes for their actions. Casting them as themselves is probably the first mistake, and while I appreciate the idea of it, the execution falters, leaving this better equipped for a documentary than a feature film.

The scenes on the train are of course, in the hands of a master who knows suspense and action like few other, very convincing, and it’s impossible not to watch it and try to get into the minds of the men who are reliving the terror. Still, this is over in mere minutes, leaving the rest of the movie to find ways to fill in the wide gaps in-between, which is another problem, forcing Eastwood and screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal (adapting the book by the three men and Jeffrey E. Stern) to spend all that time fitting these men with proverbial halos, practically destined to do as they did, with particular attention to Stone.

What’s more frustrating is the lack of backstory to the terrorist, a Moroccan named Ayoub El Khazzani who is but a cardboard cutout of a faceless badguy. It would have been good to learn more about his motivations than perhaps, spending time with the men frollicking on vacation. Undoubtedly, what happened in stopping Khazzani on that train is an act of great courage, the men deservedly earning international praise and the highest honors from the French government. However, learning about it from The 15:17 to Paris should only be the first step (and a misstep at that) to discovering more about it from better sources.

The 15:17 to Paris Review

Movie description: The 15:17 to Paris is a true to life thriller about three Americans who discover a terrorist plot aboard a train while in France.

Director(s): Clint Eastwood

Actor(s): Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone

Genre: Biographical, Thriller

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