“The 15:17 to Paris” is a movie whose subject is more than worthy of silver-screen adaptation, and one which attempts to approach this subject in a three-dimensional, human manner.
But wooden acting, unconvincing dialogue and a Wikipedian approach to storytelling lead to a viewing experience flatter than a penny left on the railroad tracks.
The film, directed by Clint Eastwood and released Friday, Feb. 9, tells the story of Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alex Skarlatos: three young Americans who prevented a terrorist attack while riding a train from Amsterdam to Paris in 2015. Unfortunately, one of the movie’s biggest blunders is also one of its most interesting choices; the heroes of the 2015 train attack play themselves.
As it goes without saying, the three young men are not professionals in this area. A trio of good actors would have, ironically, made them seem more real than they did onscreen. However, even this would not have been enough to save the movie.
Very little of the film takes place during the foiled train attack. Instead, it focuses on the early lives of Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos, and the trip through Europe which preceded their act of heroism.
This was not a bad choice, and could have worked to the movie’s advantage. The three main characters certainly have the potential to be interesting, but there is nothing particularly fresh or eye-catching about how the movie tells their backstories. Every character is something of an automaton, spitting out occasionally funny one-liners and dumping exposition right on the heads of the audience with little subtlety or finesse.
Of course, there is a great deal of foreshadowing and symbolism in the first half of the movie, but Eastwood handles these elements with such superficiality that they are hardly more than curiosities–moments where the viewer chuckles, “ha, that’s what that was all about.” During the film’s underwhelming, “and then” final act, I was unable to believe that what I saw had much at all to do with its first half and the bright (and at the same time dull), wise-cracking youths on whom it focused.
Eastwood does try to connect the characters’ pasts with their later bravery on the train, but the dialogue is not strong enough to make these connections meaningful. The audience knows what it should feel, but does not feel it.
This is sad, because The 15:17 to Paris very well could have been both an intriguing biopic and a profound exploration of bravery in ordinary people, as well as of the idea that one’s purpose in life can be much larger than him- or herself.
What it turns out to be, however, is a disjointed, tonally inconsistent, awkwardly paced mess whose set-up feels completely mismatched with its pay-off. Though I have not read the book on which the film is based, “The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes,” those interested in this story may be wise to look in that direction instead.