The 15:17 to Paris (2018) Review
TRUE LIFE HEROISM
For years, actor / director Clint Eastwood has made a name for himself in the filmmaking world of Hollywood. Like many within the pantheon of elite and famed people of “tinseltown”, Eastwood started out as an actor, first appearing on the silver screen 1955’s Revenge of the Creature as an “uncredited, minor role. This would continue in several future movie projects, until he landed the lead role in 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars. From there, Eastwood would start becoming more of a “leading man” in feature films, playing title characters in movies like The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Dirty Harry, The Beguiled, Million Dollar Baby, and Gran Torino; some of which have become iconic in Hollywood’s great tapestry of cinematic storytelling. In time, Eastwood would step out to play an important role beyond his acting ability by displaying his directorial film credibly. Such films like Invictus, American Sniper, Letters to Iwo Jima, Hereafter, Mystic River, and Flags of Our Fathers, are some of the most notable ones (as well as Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby) as a director. Additionally, Eastwood has also continued his efforts “behind the camera” by being a film producer as well as being a film’s composer, providing the music score for a selection of features. Now, after the successful praise of Sully, his last directorial film project, director Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros. Pictures (along with Village Roadshow Pictures) present the bio-pic drama film The 15:17 to Paris, based on the true-life events of the 2015 Thalys train attack. Does this movie find its placed amongst Eastwood’s illustrious career or is it a failed “based on a true story” drama that flounders from the get-go?
As children, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos are steadfast best friends, sharing a love of military games and comradery with each other. The pair are eventually joined by Anthony Sadler, a smooth-talking troublemaker who keeps the trio on their toes as they all attend a local Catholic school. Unfortunately, behavioral issues and a constant barrage of troublemaking eventually separates the Stone and Skarlatos, but their dream of “military service” still burns strongly, going into two different military branches to test both their spirt and physical strength. While Alek settles in as a member in the National Guard overseas, Spencer, on the other hand, has it the worst, finding the young man struggling to overcome his limitations, developing himself into a finely-tuned soldier, but getting his hopes dashed left and right before finally landing a position in Air Force. With the daily grind getting to the both of them, Spencer and Alek elect to take a long overdue vacation of backpacking across Europe, soon joined by their friend Anthony along for the ride as the trio reunites and takes in the sights and sounds of Europe’s iconic cities (and their landmarks). However, on train bound from Paris from Amsterdam, the men are confronted with an unexpected threat when a lone Islamic extremist emerges from one of the train’s bathroom with a machine gun and a desire to do harm to its 500 on-board passengers.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
If you haven’t ever heard of the name Clint Eastwood…. you must be living underneath a rock! His name alone is etched in Hollywood has a literally become a “household” when talking about movies and films. As stated above, Eastwood has really done the full “circuit” of actor, director, producer, and even film composer. Naturally, his acting ability is what made him famous, with his roles in Dirty Harry and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly being some of his most icons ones to date. Of his directorial work, Eastwood has made name for himself, becoming a famed director with such projects like Mystic River, Letters to Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby being some of his most recognizable features to helm. Nowadays, when Eastwood directs a film, there’s a sense of prestige by simply attaching his name to a feature film, which heightens an average moviegoer’s interest in seeing the movie’s finished product (whether in-theaters or at home). Plus, doing this review post, I really never knew that Eastwood also contributed music composition for some films (that’s kind of awesome). All in all, while not all his career projects are “gold” (I’m talking about Space Cowboys and Jersey Boys), Eastwood, throughout all his endeavors, deserves recognition for his famed catalogue in Hollywood’s movies.
Recently, Eastwood’s filmmaking endeavors have focused on bringing a “true life characters / events” to the big screen, examining the conflicted military life of Navy Seal Chris Kyle in American Sniper and the amazing “Miracle on the Hudson” of American Airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in Sully. This, of course, brings me back around to review for the film The 15:17 to Paris, Eastwood latest film project and of which is based on a true story. To be honest, I really never heard that much internet “buzz” about this movie until the film’s movie trailer dropped online (I kept on forgetting to post the trailer on my blog…whoops!). Anyway, after the success of Sully (a movie that I loved and was definitely a crowd pleaser), I was kind of hyped to see this movie, especially since Clint Eastwood was directing it and to the fact that it was kind of interesting story to tell. To be quite honest, I kept on seeing the trailer whenever I went to my local theater and it really didn’t “click” until recently that the main characters of the feature were gonna be played by the real-life people, which I thought was a pretty cool and an extremely bold decision. So, I was definitely keen on seeing The 15:17 to Paris, especially after seeing the deplorable Fifty Shades Freed the night before…. hoping to redeem my faithful in humanity and my faith in cinematic movies. So, what did I think of the movie? Well, to be honest, it was a colossal disappointment. Despite having a famed director and a powerful story to tell, The 15:17 to Paris is just a poorly executed feature film in almost every aspect. It’s real life account is intriguing (and courageously commendable), but this film is not.
Much like American Sniper and Sully, The 15:17 to Paris is rooted somewhat patriotic fashion, with Eastwood interested in bring stories of everyday heroism to the forefront of the moviegoing experience. This, of course, is one of the most remarkable aspect in the film’s “based on a true story” event, which is the unexpected display heroism and bravery that can be found within normal “everyday” people. Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler are, for lack of better analogy, fits that bill, displaying the quality on Thalys train #9634 back in August 2015. And that’s the most moving piece and shows the best part of “humanity”, which is highly commendable. Naturally, a story like that would garnish cinematic attention and creates a very “interesting” piece to work, which is probably why Eastwood elected to create a feature film on this event.
In terms of filmmaking / technical presentation, The 15:17 to Paris is okay. The movie doesn’t require a lot of CG visuals or expansive set pieces, but the overall look and feel of the feature is pleasing to look at from costumes designs, production layout, art direction, and to even the film’s score, which was composed by Christian Jacob. In short, it’s going to win any awards or anything like that, but The 15:17 to Paris technical presentation is adequate; neither really good nor really bad. However, I do have to say that the film’s editing could’ve been a bit better, especially when it comes to the film’s third act when the train attack sequence.
Unfortunately, beyond its true-life account story, most of The 15:17 to Paris fails and fails hard, which makes this movie that much more disappointing. From the get-go, the movie is mostly setup like Eastwood’s Sully with brief scenes of the train attack peppered throughout the film as the movie builds to that point in the film’s third act. However, getting to that particular point is exhaustingly boring as the movie has a hard time drumming up engaging dramatic energy to build upon. A reason for this is that the film is very haphazard in its storytelling, making some odd choices within its narrative structure in both plot points and in character development (more on the below). There are several noticeably huge (and important) chunks of the story being told that are missing and makes the overall story presentation wonky and disjointed during moments when we may have indeed them to help better understand everything that’s going on. To be quite honest, I actually had to go to “google” after the film to find out more about the film I just watched. Yes, googling something can be helpful, but when you learn much more information about something than its cinematic film counterpart, you know there’s a problem with the movie you just watched, which is what I felt when watching The 15:17 to Paris.
Another contributing factor is the film’s script, which was penned by Dorothy Blyskal and based on the auto-biography “The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers” by Jeffery E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler. While the narrative story is there and is indeed palpable, the movie’s script is thin and cheesy, especially when characters are given lines that are literally cringe worthy. I mean lines like “My god is bigger than your statistics” …. come on….no one would ever say such a line in either real-life or in a cinematic world. Thus, to be frank, the dialogue given to most of its movie’s characters are incredibly dull and nowhere as sharp as it could’ve been. Another negative factor is the film’s overall thematic tone. Is The 15:17 to Paris a coming-of-age story? Or is it a real-life drama? Is it something else? Well, it’s really hard to pinpoint as it’s really a mixture of everything and rarely seems to gel, which makes the feature uneven (in certain spots) and disappointing in others. The film’s final 20 minutes is where the movie finally “clicks” together, but, by that time, the cinematic damage has already been done. Overall, The 15:17 to Paris is poorly executed and it’s baffling as to why Eastwood, given his famed credibility as a director, would craft such a messy and uneven finished product
The most painful scenes of the entire The 15:17 to Paris film is right before the events infamous Thalys Train attack, with Spencer and Anthony (soon joined by Alek) are sightseeing throughout several European cities. It’s crystal clear what Eastwood wants to convey during these scenes, which is to portray the “normal” state of events of three young Americans who are backpacking across Europe before the unexpected events on train happens. Unfortunately, this entire sequence, which is roughly fifteen minutes (I’m estimating) drags on and on and is painful to watch as it feels like someone’s “home movie” travelogue on the big screen. Scenes of the group meeting a girl, taking selfies, getting gelato, ordering a pizza are presented and are just downright awful and pointless, which makes this portion of the film the absolute worst. It’s the film style of neo-realism vs. cinematic that Eastwood tries to tackle in this movie, but his attempt ultimately backfires.
Then there’s the overall characteristics given to Spencer, Alek, and Skarlatos, which is definitely a mixed bag. For starters, the film makes Spencer Stone the somewhat true main protagonist of the feature, with the movie’s main narrative thread following his journey from start to finish. We see him conflicted as a young wayward boy during his childhood (dealing with rules and regulations) and growing frustrated as a young man when his limitations get the best of him and prevent him from his desirable job in the military. Naturally, this is a good fit for a character as Spencer (as a character) evolves. However, it’s, more or less, hampered by the portrayal of character (more on the below) that deters Spencer from reaching a somewhat resonating quality by the time the film reaches it ending. With Spencer being the “hero” character of the movie, Alek Skarlatos is more like the “B story” of The 15:17 to Paris that never gets fully fleshed out. Being a close friend to Spencer, Alek does get screen-time, but his own personal journey in the movie isn’t quite there We, as viewers, understand why Spencer’s plight in the military is important and impactful, but Alek’s involvement in the military is inconclusive and never explained. This also extends to when he decides to go to Germany to visit a girlfriend before meeting Spencer and Anthony. There’s really no special meaning and is totally forgetful. Thus, Alek Skarlatos (as a character) is flat and underdeveloped. However, the most disservice of the three in the movie would have to be Anthony Sadler. As a character, he’s really a footnote in The 15:17 to Paris, with Spencer and even Alek getting more prompted screen-time than his character. Whether in his formative years as a child or when he becomes a young man, the film rarely focuses on him to the point where very little is known about him. Both Spencer and Alek are in military service, but what does Anthony do? There’s no growth to him or anything like that and his involvement in the film (as a character) is totally worthless (except for the film’s train scene), which makes Anthony a pretty forgetful character.
One of the most intriguing and bold decisions that Eastwood makes in The 15:17 to Paris is the decision for the movie’s main trio protagonist of Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler to be played by the actual real-life Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler. While it isn’t unheard for a based on a real-life character (be it TV or film) to be played by the actual person, most of these roles are, more or less, side characters and / or cameo-like ones and rarely the starring in the “lead” role. As I said, it’s definitely a creative and extremely bold move to make and (unfortunately) Eastwood’s gamble in this move to make the film’s characters feel “authentic” in realism fails within this cinematic retelling. Why? To simply put it, Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler can’t act. They do get a somewhat of a pass because acting is not really their forte (heck, if I played myself in a movie…I would be terrible at it), so it’s a bit understandable as to why the quality in their theatrics isn’t there. That being said, performances are less-than desirable to the point of being “cheesy” or “lifeless” with some cringe worthy dialogue in their delivery. Again, they’re not actors, but its still hard to believe in them when it’s hard to buy into their characters, especially since the trio are the main protagonists in the film. This is especially noticeable when they’re trying to be display “dramatic” moments throughout the film (i.e. when Spencer gets frustrated at his several failures in the military). Even worse, their actually on-screen chemistry seems awkward, which is strange as they’re best friends in real life. It goes without saying that hanging with your friends / buddies in your natural environment is quite different from playing them a film set, but the trio is way out of their comfort zone and their overall closely-knit bond seems very unnaturally and clunky. Perhaps Eastwood should have looked at professional actors (be it big named stars or even unknown actors) in bring these three young Americans to life on the big screen. In the end, Spencer, Alek, and Anthony seems like good individuals (I would love to meet them in real life) and no one can deny their courage at what they did, but their portrayal of themselves in The 15:17 to Paris are just poorly done, which is a combination of them acting and their overall character build in the film.
Fairing slightly better / worse are the three young child actors, which includes William Jennings (making his acting debut in the film) as the younger Spencer, Bryce Gheisar (Walk the Prank and Wonder) as the younger Alek, and Paul-Mikel Williams (Streelights and Westworld) as the younger Anthony. Much like their adult counterparts, their performances young actors range from okay to bad to forgetful, with some of their dialogue being cringe worthy and annoying, which makes their respective characters unsympathetic.
As for the film’s main antagonist, actor Ray Corasani (Aim High and Fireflies) provides the role of Ayoub El-Khazzani, the man responsible for causing the train attack on-board Thalys train #934. Unfortunately, while I’m not really knocking on Corasani’s acting ability or involvement in the feature, but there’s not really that much to him. The movie never fully explains as to the reasons “why” Ayoub is decides to commit such a violent terrorism attack on a train bound for Paris. Naturally, the real-life event has been documented and you can find the answer by doing a “google” search, but a viewer shouldn’t have to, especially within Eastwood’s attempts to make The 15:17 to Paris a neo-realism endeavor. Thus, Corasani’s Ayoub El-Khazzani is a paper thin / one dimensional baddie that’s more of a threat obstacle than a well-rounded villain (at least within the context of the film).
Another weird (and odd) decision in the movie is the film’s supporting cast, finding many of them “out of place” within the context of a Clint Eastwood film. This includes, actress Judy Greer (13 Going on 30 and 27 Dresses) Spencer’s mom Joyce Eskel, Jenna Fischer (The Office and Slither) as Alek’s mom Heidi Skarlatos, actor Thomas Lennon (Reno 911! and 17 Again) as Catholic School Principal Michael Akers, actor P.J. Byrne (Big Little Lies and The Legend of Korra) as Catholic school teacher Mr. Henry, actor Tony Hale (Veep and Arrested Development) as gym teacher Coach Murray, and Jaleel White (Family Matter and Sonic the Hedgehog) as Catholic School teacher Garrett Walden. Now, it’s not a strange thing for many actors and actresses (from different TV and film backgrounds) to wanting to be in a Clint Eastwood film. Heck, it would personally be awesome to be in an Eastwood film…no matter it was just a small cameo or just a “walk on the screen” role. However, many of these actors listed above are, more or less, comedian actors and feel seriously and awkwardly “out of place” within The 15:17 to Paris. They’re acting ability is not called into question here, but rather simply their involvement (i.e. the casting decision to hire them in their respective roles). A few are understandable, but most I just scratch my head and say “Why did they chose him / here?”.
Lastly, because I forgot to mention this, the real-life Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler aren’t the only ones involved in The 15:17 to Paris, with the real-life Mark Moogalian, Isabelle Risacher Moogalia, and Chris Norman (passengers who were directly affected by attack) are also featured in the film and reprising their respective selves in the movie. These three are minor characters in the film, but they handle themselves well enough with the screen-time given to them
If something were to happen right now…in a dangerous situation…an extremely critical moment…would you know what to do? Would you know how to act? Would you act?” are the echoing lines that reverberate when three young Americans are faced with an unexpected evil in the film The 15:17 to Paris. Director Clint Eastwood newest film brings to life (underneath a cinematic light) the event that took on-board the Thalys train #934 bound from Paris on August 2015, examining the three lives of Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler that lead them up to that point. Unfortunately, while tale the film is telling is indeed palpable and Eastwood’s intent is certainly in the right place, the movie itself is just a completely mess. From its dull moments, uneven tones, boring script, thinly-sketched characters, laughable / cringe worthy dialogue, and questionable decisions, the film is poorly executed and fails to strike a cord within its own premise as well as bring an engaging cinematic story to the proceedings. Personally, I was really disappointed with this movie, especially since I was looking forward to it for being a Clint Eastwood film, and that it was based on a true story that displayed the unforeseen “everyman” heroism. Thus, as you can expect from this review, my recommendation for this movie is definitely (and unequivocally) a hard “skip it” as there’s really no reason to see this movie (i.e. just google any information on the event and on the lives of Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler). It goes without saying that The 15:17 to Paris is gonna be a “black mark” on Eastwood’s Hollywood career and that’s a shame. When it’s all said and done, no one can ever deny the unsurmountable courage and bravery that Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler (and proximity by Moogalian, Norman, and several others) displayed that day on August 21st, 2015, especially in today’s world where acts of “hate crimes” (bigotry and racism) and acts of terrorism have risen. And to that, I salute to those individuals and those like them that show steadfast valor in the face of evil. It is for that reason (above all else) that The 15:17 to Paris is a colossal disappointment, with the tale being told deserving a better cinematic representation than what was given.
1.7 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: February 9th, 2018
Reviewed On: February 14th, 2018
The 15:17 to Paris is 94 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references, and language