The 15:17 to Paris (2018)

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Critic Consensus: The 15:17 to Paris pays clumsily well-intentioned tribute to an act of heroism, but by casting the real-life individuals involved, director Clint Eastwood fatally derails his own efforts.

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In the early evening of August 21, 2015, the world watched in stunned silence as the media reported a thwarted terrorist attack on Thalys train #9364 bound for Paris, an attempt prevented by three courageous young Americans traveling through Europe. The film follows the course of the friends' lives, from the struggles of childhood through finding their footing in life, to the series of unlikely events leading up to the attack. Throughout the harrowing ordeal, their friendship never wavers, making it their greatest weapon and allowing them to save the lives of the more than 500 passengers on board.

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Critic Reviews for The 15:17 to Paris

All Critics (152) | Top Critics (28)

They're all handsome but just appalling actors. This disjuncture is impossible to forget while watching the film, and it's very uncomfortable.

Feb 14, 2018 | Full Review…

Despite good intentions, the movie never lives up to the breathless excitement the real-life story promises.

Feb 12, 2018 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
Observer
Top Critic

"The 15:17 to Paris" suffers from an excess of dramatic wadding, and the over-all effect is too muffled and often too dull, sadly, to make an impact.

Feb 12, 2018 | Full Review…

The action sequence on the train is truly remarkable, and Eastwood shoots with a documentary-style immediacy, but the surrounding film - especially the script and performances - doesn't serve this thrilling true-life story, or the audience.

Feb 9, 2018 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

The 15:17 to Paris shows that the 87-year-old director is still capable of surprises.

Feb 9, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

A consummate work in Eastwood's filmography.

Feb 9, 2018 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The 15:17 to Paris

A interesting touch casting the real life heroes in this docu-drama, well written and photographed. Eastwood does a capable job but not his best by any stretch. Worth watching! 06-14-2018

Christopher Oakley
Christopher Oakley

Super Reviewer

½

Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler were three ordinary servicemen taking a train ride into Paris when they found themselves in the middle of an armed terrorist attack. The three men rushes into danger, disarmed and subdued the attacker, and treated the injured on the scene. The 15:17 to Paris is a big screen movie directed by Clint Eastwood (American Sniper) that tells their life stories played by the men themselves. It got some of the worst reviews of Eastwood's storied career (mine won't be better). There are two gigantic miscalculations when it comes to 15:17 to Paris: 1) having the real-life subjects play the adult versions of themselves, and 2) that there was enough material here to fill out an engaging, enlightening, fulfilling film experience. I assumed telling this real-life story as a movie was going to be a challenge to produce enough meaningful material to eek out a feature-length running time, and within the first five minutes I knew that I was doomed. We're sitting down to two single moms discussing their boys with their classroom teacher, and that teacher literally says, "If you don't medicate them now they'll just self-medicate later. Statistically, boys of single moms are more likely to have problems." My response: "What the hell, lady?!" This character was obviously engineered, from her very foundation, to be a walking, talking point of exposition and disagreement. No real teacher would ever utter these words so callously. It was this rude awakening that made me realize what a terribly written slog I was in for. At no point were these supporting characters going to come across as authentic human beings. Instead, it's a world populated by robots with bad social skills or unshakable faith played by familiar actors (Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Thomas Lennon, Tony Hale, Jaleel White of all people). Also, what little kid has a Full Metal Jacket poster in his bedroom? Did he not understand what that movie was about? These men can rightly serve as an inspiration, rising to the occasion in a true test of courage. No one will challenge the heroism. But what else is there to this story? The attack is presented as the framing device and as it plays out we segue into lengthy flashbacks about their lives leading up to this pivotal point in time. It's just that these three men lived fairly uneventful, normal lives until finding themselves in a unique situation. We don't seem to trace any significant, formative moments. Spending time with them as kids, then teens, and finally as adults doesn't so much provide greater understanding of them as people as it does pad out the running time. We watch them get in trouble twice at school for not having a hall pass. We watch them watch football. We watch them endure training montages. We watch the trio tour the sights of Italy and eat gelato. We watch an Army team retrieve a backpack. We watch Spencer get demoted for not stitching properly. Seriously, this is given time. It's not even until a full hour-plus into the movie before they confront the attack on the train. Chronicling the lives of normal, real-life people under extraordinary circumstances is not by itself a fatal flaw, as evidenced by the masterful and mournful United 93. The power of empathy allows us to leap into a multitude of perspectives. However, with United 93 there was an ongoing story that could unfold because of the scope of events. There were developments, deadly complications, and the slow realization of what was happening, what was going to happen, and what needed to be done. With 15:17 to Paris, the attack is uncomplicated and over relatively quickly. There's a reason Eastwood saves the train attack for the end because it cannot function as a sufficient movie plot on its own. Eastwood had a similar predicament with his previous film chronicling the heroism of the pilot who landed a plane on the Hudson River. The plane crash was thrilling and Tom Hanks added some layers to the portrayal of a man uncomfortable with the spotlight. 15:17 to Paris doesn't even have that much. It's a tedious trek to an all-too swift climax. The other large miscalculation was having the real-life actors portray themselves. These guys just are not actors. I suppose Eastwood felt the real-life figures would best understand the emotions of each scene, in particular the attack, but another approach would be simply teaching actors. The forced verisimilitude feels like a marketing gimmick meant to appeal to a select audience. Making things more difficult is that these guys just aren't that interesting as subjects. Sure there are broad strokes of characterization applied here and there but it's with very minimal effort (see above for some of the just-had-to-include plot moments). This is another reason actors would have been preferable, because these guys' lives don't have to be interesting for my benefit. Their lives were not destined to one day entertain me on the big screen. They can simply be normal people. On the other hand, watching normal people do normal, boring things without a more enriching sense of introspection, personalities, or depth is like being trapped watching someone else's home movies on a loop. Spencer Stone performs the best of his buds but none of them should expect a second career as an in-demand thespian. I feel bad saying this but I really just didn't care, and that's because the movie gave me no reason to do so here. Yes, these three men are heroes and their sense of normality might lend itself toward a larger theme about the everyday capabilities of heroism, but there isn't enough here to make me care beyond the train attack. The screenwriting does not present them as multi-dimensional characters and perhaps that's because of the guys' limitations as actors, exacerbating a spiral that only makes 15:17 to Paris less involving as it chases after the idol of authenticity. Eastwood is known for being an economical filmmaker but it feels like he should have been even more judicious here. The adherence to strictly the facts strips the film of some of its larger emotional power. There's far too much filler and not enough substance to balance out 90-plus minutes. You'll grow restless. If there's a lesson to be learned from The 15:17 to Paris, let it be that every story needs a reason to exist and, when in doubt, trust actors to deliver that story. Nate's Grade: C-

Nate Zoebl
Nate Zoebl

Super Reviewer

An ineptly-written movie that doesn't know how to build momentum and cannot find a good reason to justify us watching the lives of these three people ever since they were kids, becoming only dull as we follow them in every single step of their trip until they finally get to the train.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

½

ATTEMPTED MURDER ON THE DISORIENTED EXPRESS - My Review of THE 15:17 TO PARIS (2 1/2 Stars) Clint Eastwood is 87 years old. Say what you will about his politics, or the...ahem....pacing of some of his films, he has directed two Oscar winning best pictures, and still cranks out one or two movies a year. He's 87, people! 87!!! Most people his age don't live to be his age! And yet, here he is churning out another film in his "What Makes An American Hero" series (AMERICAN SNIPED, SULLY) with THE 15:17 TO PARIS, the true story of three lifelong Sacramento besties who thwarted a terrorist attack aboard the titular train. Like SULLY before it, I wondered how such a short moment in time could be made into a movie. SULLY answered that question by repeating the incident over and over and padding it out with a hearing that never took place. THE 15:17 TO PARIS, written by first timer Dorothy Blyskal, pads out an admittedly thrilling 10 minute sequence with 80 some minutes of clunky childhood backstory and the overuse of a selfie stick throughout Europe. The swinging for the fences stroke of genius idea, however, has Eastwood casting the actual heroes in the lead roles. In concept alone, I admire the attempt. It's fresh and rare. The fact that Eastwood and Warner Brothers are willing to risk telling such an iconic tale with non-actors playing themselves, which is much harder than it looks, earns my respect. A shame the film falters as much as it does. Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone are true heroes. They saved a lot of lives that day in 2015 and nobody can ever take that away from them. I would imagine they would be the first to admit that they're not actors. It would have been so easy to cast Michael B. Jordan, one of the Chris' (Pratt, Pine, Evans....whatever), and a Hemsworth or two, soup up the action a little mores and have an action blockbuster on their hands. Eastwood and Co., however, are after something more intimate by giving us a trio of average troublemaking kids who grow up to love their country and randomly find their moment while galavanting across Europe. Sadly, the script has one groaner line after another and stiff line deliveries don't help matters much. Sadler has a little charm, but gets saddled with exactly one unflattering characteristic, the endless need to document every moment with his selfie stick. Skarlatos, who winningly competed on DANCING WITH THE STARS, struggles the most here with a total absence of charisma, which leads me to think he should stick to dancing. That may be the most absurd sentence I've ever typed. Stone, however, in a role more layered than the others, actually does quite well. He's got the zip and unpredictability of a young Woody Harrelson. Now don't get me wrong, I do NOT want him showing up next in one of those FAST & FURIOUS movies, but he touched me, what can I say? In a film overstuffed with strong actors such as Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer along with not bad cameos by Thomas Lennon, Tony Hale, and Jaleel White, it's that much more noticeable when our leads struggle to bring their characters/themselves to life. The script meanders through their childhood antics, but the point is made clear. Ordinary people do extraordinary things. The young Anthony and Spencer don't do so well with their scenes, but Bryce Gheisar as young Alek has a nice melancholic presence. Between this film and his wonderful performance as the best friend in WONDER, he's a child actor to watch. He's better at playing Alek than Alek is at playing Alek! Things get uncomfortable, and quite boring, when the trio make their way through Europe, with all the obvious excitement gelato, drinking, clubbing, and more selfies bring to the equation, although I was tickled by the fact that 87-year-old Eastwood staged a scene with stripper poles, endless shots, sick beats, and people grinding all up against each other. Elderly directors don't all want to make THE BUCKET LIST, ok? But that train sequence. It's what we all want to see and it more than lived up to what I had hoped. Shooting in a lively docu-style, Eastwood achieves the immediacy, the terror, and the visceral qualities of the violence quite well. It's an act of heroism that made me cry. My emotional connection to this moment had me rethinking the entire film experience. Yes, it's pretty bad, but I still felt something. I knew I was witnessing that moment where people decide to act on instinct and make a difference. They didn't plan it. They didn't set out to be heroes. They bravely just did the right thing. A Hollywood-ized version of this story would not have had the same impact. It may have had a better sense of pace and false dramatics, but this somewhat failed experiment has the distinction of putting you right there inside the experience. It's a shame that it kinda sucks, but I still applaud the outside-the-box approach.

Glenn Gaylord
Glenn Gaylord

Super Reviewer

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