Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Premise: Based on true events. Three Americans (Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos) who have been friends since childhood reunite in Europe for a backpacking trip. While riding a train from Amsterdam to Paris they intervene in a terrorist attack.
What Works: The 15:17 to Paris is at its best when it achieves naturalness. That’s the goal of most drama—to create the illusion that reality is unfolding before our eyes—and this particular film uses stunt casting in a bid for authenticity; Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos play themselves and recreate their trip across Europe and their combat with an armed terrorist aboard a train. The sequences of the three young men seeing the sights in Europe and interacting with the locals capture the reality and authenticity that the filmmakers strive for.
What Doesn’t: Unfortunately, the rest of The 15:17 to Paris falls short. The stunt casting gimmick of this movie is its downfall. Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, and Alek Skarlatos acted with bravery and heroism in 2015 but they are not professional actors and that is apparent throughout this movie. With the exception of a handful of moments, nothing in The 15:17 to Paris feels authentic. Part of the problem is the way it is shot. The moviemakers cast the real life subjects to play themselves but then place them in a conventional Hollywood production. This film might have been more successful with a cinema verite style like Paul Greengrass’ United 93 which recreated the events of September 11, 2001 and included some of the actual locations and people involved. For a movie that tries to be authentic, The 15:17 to Paris comes across strangely artificial. The film is only ninety-four minutes but it feels much longer than that because The 15:17 to Paris has little tension nor does it provide much insight into who these men were. Most of the story unfolds from the point of view of Spencer Stone; Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos are left out of a lot of the action. The movie doesn’t create an interesting or vivid portrait of Sadler or Skarlatos and the friendship between the three of them remains vague. The 15:17 to Paris also suffers from clunky editing. Most of the movie is linear but it occasionally flashes forward to the events on the train. These scenes aren’t intercut into the movie very well. For that matter, the whole structure of the story feels forced. The movie implies that these characters were guided to their moment of heroism by divine forces; various uncontrollable circumstances led Sadler, Stone, and Skarlatos to be on that train at that particular moment having accrued the skills necessary to survive. The filmmakers deal with that idea superficially; there is no grander reckoning about fate or purpose or meaning. When the story finally arrives at the terrorist attack, the sequence has little impact. The whole incident is over very quickly and comes across as a random event instead of the fulfillment of destiny.
Bottom Line: The 15:17 to Paris fails as a drama and as a recreation of a real life event. The movie miscalculates its stunt casting gimmick and it coasts on its factual basis instead of providing a compelling story.
Episode: #686 (February 18, 2018)