Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).
As logical thoughts for a movie go, certainly one that tells the story of the foiled August 2015 terrorist attack onboard a high-speed train to Paris would qualify, especially in the hands of Clint Eastwood, and even more so with the lead roles being played by the actual American heroes who lived through the harrowing event.
But as the finished product plays out on a movie screen in front of you, it’s hard to stop from being reminded of Robert Burns’ famous poem about the best laid plans of mice and men going awry. In this case very, very awry.
Alas, there’s very little in The 15:17 to Paris that works. From the B-movie script by newbie screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal to the heroes’ whiplash-inducing lack of acting talent, the finished product is more likely to induce moans of pity for all involved than it will a strong sense of patriotism.
That’s a crying shame, since the three men, Airman Spencer Stone, Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their friend Anthony Sadler, are true heroes who literally risked their own lives to save others. The story of those few short moments on the train is indeed fascinating and eminently interesting—it’s as riveting a 10 minutes you’ll see on screen this year. The problem is the movie is longer than 10 minutes, and there isn’t enough interesting real-life backstory to fill the gaps.
As the opening credits roll, we follow the terrorist as he boards the train. (We don’t even see his face until halfway through the movie, but more on that later.) Then we promptly flash back to 2005 when our three heroes were kids in a Christian middle school. After a half-hour, all we learn is that they got in trouble for TP’ing a house (though we don’t get to see it happen) and that they liked playing with Nerf guns. The most dramatic thing to happen was young Alek eventually moving to Oregon to live with his dad.
Fast-forward, and Stone enlists in the Air Force, but he has problems with his peripheral vision, so he can’t become a para-rescuer. And then a few years later the three men decide to reunite in Europe for a backpacking trip.
I don’t blame the guys at all for having relatively uneventful lives (that is, until the attack); the issue comes with Blyskal trying to convince us that their lives actually were eventful and worth an entire movie. It’s especially frustrating, because she easily could have (and should have) given us some background on the other people on the train, particularly passenger Mark Moogalian (who also played himself). Not only was he severely injured by the terrorist, but he was in fact the first to confront him. And what about the terrorist himself? All Blyskal thinks we need to know is that he’s an anonymous Middle Eastern man with a gun. But why not round out the story a little?
Eastwood sincerely tries to keep us invested in the story, interspersing quick hits from inside the train throughout the entire movie. The problem, though, is that the balance of The 15:17 to Paris is hopelessly banal and pointless scenes. At one point each guy individually buys gelato in Italy while commenting on the flavors. Yawn.
There’s only so much Eastwood can do, both with the awful script and with Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos themselves, who are more wooden than any actor this side of a Lifetime original movie. Casting them may have sounded like a brilliant idea at some point, but it doesn’t even come close to working. It’s not remotely their fault, though, just like it’s not fair to them or their story that this is the end result. They deserve better. Much better.