There are a lot of bad movies out there and I’ve sat through quite a few of them. I mean I did a whole top 10 on horrible movies from 2017 alone. But even those movies never made me rub the bridge of my nose and wonder what I’m doing with my life within the first 15 minutes. That’s exactly what happened when I saw “The 15:17 to Paris”. A film utilizing gimmick casting, this Clint Eastwood directed project had the best intentions in mind, but it sports no charm, no charisma, horrendous acting even by actual actors, and was a painful hour-and-a-half to sit through, and I haven’t even gotten to the review yet…so here it is. This is my review of “The 15:17 to Paris”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“The 15:17 to Paris” is a biopic directed by Clint Eastwood that stars the actual Americans who helped stop a terrorist attack aboard a train in 2015. Real-life heroes Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos portray themselves on a trip through Europe leading to the fateful train incident where only injuries were reported and no fatalities. The film chronicles the trio’s friendship as children and their reconnection at an older age, including Stone’s and Skarlatos’ tenures in the military, before recreating the moment that made all three men household names and earned Stone the French Legion of Honor.
It’s bad. I mean reeeeally bad. Not just from the inexperienced real-life men playing themselves. No, there are few if any real redeeming performances in this movie. I’ll start by addressing the elephant in the room so to speak. Yes, I know the three men who are playing themselves have no real acting experience and there are people defending them because the film is more about the story than the acting. However, there’s absolutely nothing about any of these three that makes this movie even remotely watchable. They’re handed a bland and basic script and don’t even really seem to be trying to add life to their performances. With all due respect to these men and the terror they prevented (and I mean that these are three men worthy of praise for their heroics) the gimmick wears off almost immediately as they fail to draw you in to their story at all.
Now, you could argue that the real-life men deserve a bit of leeway because they’re not actors. This isn’t what they do. Alright, fine. It was a neat gimmick that just didn’t pay off…but that doesn’t in any way make up for the horrendous professional acting jobs that litter the film as well. There ARE some actual actors in this story including Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer and a slew of young actors who portray younger version of the three heroes. Every performance big or small, is lifeless, awkward, choppy and extremely hard to watch. Noone feels invested, even those paid to be invested. I mean even in the worst of movies I’ve seen in my life the actors at least tried. It doesn’t feel like anyone tries in this movie. Everyone is flat, cliché or emotionally nonexistent. This would have made for a good documentary, but for an actual cinematic representation of a real-life act of heroism there just seems to be no heart or commitment to anything on screen, acting or otherwise. What could have been an epic drama in the hands of real actors and a committed director feels phoned in and made without conviction…But before I bash of the movie more I feel I should focus on the positives.
Just as no movie is without issues, no movie is completely bad either. In the case of “The 15:17 to Paris” the one redeemable factor is the one thing we all really care to see, the actual heroic actions on the train. Thankfully this moment in the film is the best moment and truly pays off with the real men on board to recreate their actions. This exchange shows just how good the movie COULD have been. It’s incredibly believable, filled with tension and, surprisingly, is well acted and choreographed. It takes a LONG time to get to the point, but when we finally get to see the moment we were all promised at least that moment was delightfully real and raw.
While it’s not really something that “worked”, I do feel it’s important for me to mention here that this story was a good story to tell. It’s told sloppily and it’s too draw out, but this story is one of bravery and stepping up when duty calls. For as much as I hated this movie I did appreciate what it had to say and director Clint Eastwood’s willingness to try something different by allowing the real-world men who saved hundreds of lives to tell their story on the big screen the way they lived it. Very little worked, but it was a chance worth taking as it created buzz and made for something…rather different to say the least. I just wish it was done better and with more heart and dedication to the craft. It’s alright to try something new and rarely do we get to see a real life story of heroism portrayed by the actual people who lived it. But different doesn’t mean good and raw doesn’t mean real all the time. The problem the movie runs into is it tries to tell this long narrative leading up to the event on the train, but it’s those added aspects of the story that bog it down and make it hard to watch. I wanted a story of heroism not a biography and, as I’ll explain in a second, the movie feels like it did it’s stars a disservice by focusing more on their lives than their heroics.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Okay…(exhales) I know I’ve been harsh on this film so I’ll just quickly repeat that the acting and script are dry, bland, and uninteresting. A story of heroism, portrayed by real people or actors, should be engaging and gripping and fun and interesting to watch. Save for the climactic scene on the train “The 15:17 to Paris” is none of these things. It’s just a sloppy movie and honestly even with better acting involved I probably STILL wouldn’t have liked it. The screenplay is just terrible and drawn out to fit its one-and-a-half hour run time and while a better cast could have probably done something with the nonexistent script even in good hands there doesn’t seem to be much hope that this would have been a better film.
My biggest gripe with the film among my many complaints is that this story doesn’t even glorify the heroes properly…and THEY were actually in it. As the movie drew to its end I looked back on the experience to that point and realized this story makes these men out to be boring screw-ups who had their moment. Now I know, the point of the film was to present these men as actual people but in an ironic sort of way it only proved why dramatizing the story is necessary at times. I mean I know that these are good men. Just look at what they accomplished. But, let me explain why this movie is not too flattering for them. It dwells on their constant inability to succeed with no real redemption outside of a single moment despite their dedication, it makes every female character nothing but a pawn in their own stories and in some ways even nothing more than sex symbols, and it implies that they only even got on the 15:17 because of a message from God, a turn of events that feels tacky and waters down the mens’ willingness to do what’s right as human beings. Granted the “message from God” part was probably meant to humble the men, but it doesn’t feel humbling. It feels forced and insincere. Now ALL of this could have come off much more flattering in good hands, but it;’s not flattering because there’s no substance to the narrative to support it.
In a better movie all of this could have been adjusted or utilized in ways that could have made these men inspiring characters who overcame obstacles and/or were normal people put in an incredibly tough situation to save many in the moment. But here, this film does none of that. Granted it’s not all the fault of the real-life men in the film who DO deserve some credit for even stepping up to make this project knowing the odds were stacked against them from the start. It’s a tough are to perfect even if your a professional. However, the poor script and boring drawn out narrative didn’t help at all. In the same way films usually tend to overindulge on the drama to drive home a story this film doesn’t and it’s not better off for it. It is nice to think of a film being more raw and realistic, but in the end it feels more suited for a documentary format because in the context of a big budget movie I actually feel this more realistic approach and gimmick does no justice to these heroes. It’s a nice effort that falls flat on its face.
People will think what they want about “The 15:17 to Paris”. Some call it a middle finger to established Hollywood, some say it needs to be experienced with context and an understanding that it’s not art, it’s a depiction. No matter what defense you want to use there’s no getting around it. “The 15:17 to Paris” is just a bad movie with bad acting, a poor script and a drawn out story that takes forever to get to the point. It was a nice gimmick and a nice experiment but it didn’t work and failed to capture the charm and inspiration of its story outside of the actual heroic event that, as I said, is the only part of the film that really pays off. These are great men who did a great thing, but not every story is fit to be stretched for the Hollywood treatment and when that story is poorly handled AND complimented by inexperienced actors playing themselves you get a giant mess. Think what you want about it, but in the end this film, in my opinion, was one of the most frustrating and unsatisfying movies I’ve ever seen in a theater, which is sad because the story was a deserving one to tell.