Clint Eastwood may have just turned 88 on May 31st, but his more than 60-year-long career continues rolling on. Eastwood’s latest project finds him behind the camera for The 15:17 to Paris, which may be the oddest film you’ll watch this year.
It’s based around the real-life events aboard a Paris-bound train in August 2015, when three American tourists stopped a lone terrorist from inflicting mass carnage. The group of Americans (longtime friends Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler) did get some help from a few other passengers, but were the ones who risked the most. Stone, in particular, demonstrated the most bravery by charging the gunman, whose AK-47 jammed before Stone tackled him.
So far, so good, right? Sounds like perfect fodder for a compelling, ripped-from-the-headlines thriller that’s been placed in the hands of a skilled filmmaker. Unfortunately, the dramatic centrepiece of the movie ends up being the only part of it worth watching. And considering the most dramatic part of that event takes up less than five minutes of screen time, that’s a huge problem for a film that runs 94 minutes.
The only part of the film worth watching isn’t just brief, it also doesn’t arrive until shortly before the end credits start rolling (which can’t be considered a spoiler since we know how things are going to play out). Getting to that point in the film will test even the most patient of viewers. The 15:17 to Paris may very well be the most padded movie I’ve ever seen.
For almost the entirety of its running time, virtually nothing compelling happens onscreen. It’s a slow procession of one exposition scene after another, with precious little of interest actually being exposed or revealed. We see a trio of unremarkable young actors playing Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler growing up in Sacramento (and doing unremarkable things). Then we see the men in their early adult years before Eastwood shifts the film to 2015 and it becomes a beautiful-looking, but painfully boring European travelogue as the trio heads toward their fateful train trip.
With all of these major issues working against it, they’re arguably not even the movie’s biggest problem. No, we haven’t even gotten to the really crazy part yet, which is the fact that Eastwood chose to have Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler play themselves as adults. If that sounds like an absolutely terrible idea to you, you would be 100% correct.
The leads, all with zero acting experience, are hopelessly lost trying to pull off the feat, especially Skarlatos. And that’s a whole other level of weird, when someone plays themselves onscreen and still doesn’t come across as authentic or natural. They’re not done any favours by the terrible screenplay from Dorothy Blyskal. Then again, she based her work on a book authored by (you guessed it) the three men and writer Jeffrey E. Stern. Like I said…weird. Eastwood also casts a few other real-life train passengers to play themselves, which only adds a further layer of strangeness to everything if you’re aware of that fact while watching.
Even the real actors in the film fall flat with the thin material they have to work with. The recognizable faces in this drama are all curiously primarily known as comedic actors. They include Judy Greer, Jenna Fisher, Thomas Lennon, Tony Hale, and…Jaleel White? Yes, seeing Steve Urkel in a Clint Eastwood film is a tad surreal.
Despite this being the kind of “American heroes” premise Hollywood loves making and American audiences eat up, it’s still shocking The 15:17 to Paris actually got made. It’s a testament to Eastwood’s legend and influence that he somehow convinced a studio to greenlight a $30 million movie with the glaring issues this one clearly had before filming began.
Eastwood’s leap of faith in casting Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler as themselves proves to be disastrous. It’s a true shame their noble act aboard that Paris-bound train could be even remotely sullied by their involvement with such a poorly conceived film, especially one helmed by a Hollywood veteran who should have known better.