Eastwood originally considered actors Kyle Gallner, Jeremie Harris and Alexander Ludwig for the roles of Skalatos, Sadler and Stone. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
If one is a fan of historical dramas where the historical aspect of it is a three-minute-long event that happens at the end of the movie with nothing of interest happening for the rest of the running time, then “The 15:17 to Paris” is the right movie to watch.
Based around the true events of the Thalys train attack in August of 2015, “The 15:17 to Paris” chronicles the lives of three American friends, two of which are soldiers, who stopped the attacker.
When it comes to historical drama stories, there is essentially one of two things to do to make it work fundamentally. The story either has to focus on an interesting figure from history, such as “Schindler’s List,” or an interesting event in history, such as “Apollo 13.” “The 15:17 to Paris” fails in both fields. Since the backstory of the characters is underdeveloped and the events right before the train attack are them on a European vacation, the character aspect is uninteresting. Since the actual historical event that the movie is based around only lasts for about five minutes, the historical event focus is lacking.
It is important to note that the movie is directed by Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood, who has continued to make movies into his 80s. Eastwood has a lot of experience under his belt, which is why “The 15:17 to Paris” does not feel like a Clint Eastwood movie, save for the train attack scene. Almost every idea, every line of dialogue and every actor chosen seems to have been a bad choice that someone as talented and acclaimed as Clint Eastwood should have realized to avoid.
The awfully written script becomes apparent with the first line of dialogue, which is groan-worthy. It then hard cuts to the three friends in their middle school days, where the screenplay fluctuates between bad and cringeworthy dialogue for the kids or on-the-nose and cringeworthy dialogue from the parents. Then, when the characters are out of middle school and are young adults, it becomes apparent that no one on the crew understands how young adults speak. For example, one of the three friends (Anthony Sadler) seems to bring up taking selfies in every other line of dialogue.
The only thing worse than bad dialogue is when it is delivered by bad actors. The three friends (Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Sadler) are all played by themselves. This is kind of a neat gimmick, but none of them are good actors to the point where these literal life-long friends do not have any on screen chemistry with each other.
Another issue with the screenplay is a lack of focus. The first lines of the movie are from Sadler, telling the audience about the story they are about to witness. When it cuts to their middle school days, the focus is on Stone and Skarlatos’ friendship while Sadler seems like a secondary character in all of this. Then, the movie mainly focuses on Stone’s story while Skarlatos gets a couple of scenes to himself every now and then and Sadler gets dropped all together unless he is with Stone.
While Stone is the member of the trio that gets the most focus, he is just as underdeveloped as the rest of them. The other characters are never given a chance to be developed, but Stone does have enough focus from the movie to do that. However, any development seems to just happen, so it never feels like he is actually growing as a character. For example, it is said that Stone has a problem committing to things, but in the very next scene he is completely committed to joining the military.
There are a few standout aspects of the movie, though. There is a step up in the sound and the dialogue is clearer than it was in Eastwood’s last couple of movies, “Sully” and “American Sniper,” and the actual train attack sequence actually feels like something Clint Eastwood made. It is well shot and executed, and it has a realistic feeling to it.
Considering Eastwood’s track record as a filmmaker, “The 15:17 to Paris” is one of the most surprising let downs in recent memory.
Final Grade: D-