As a filmmaker, it is useful to have in your skill belt a good distinction between what will work in practise and what will work in the mind only. This segways into something I want to have as a running theme in this post, films and their selling points. Typically, these can range from a certain person associated with a film project or something about the film that has to be seen to experience. In the case of The 15:17 to Paris, it’s both of these. But even if you have an interesting selling point, that’s essentially all that it is a selling point, it’s down to the film whether that point is gratifying to audiences. The 15:17 to Paris is in no way gratifying as it is dull and boring, which is the exact opposite of how a story like this should make you feel at the end.
The 15:17 to Paris, directed by Clint Eastwood, is the true story of three men, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alex Skarlatos. These three have been friends since middle school and the film essentially shows their lives and friendship through the years, all of which leads to the three men on vacation in Europe and them boarding a train to Paris and stopping a terrorist from killing everyone onboard.
Before I begin talking about everything wrong with this film I want to make one thing clear, these three men are absolutely, the definition of heroes. What these men did was extraordinarily courageous and deserve every accolade that comes their way. In researching this, I learned that one of the men, Spencer Stone, was later the victim of an unrelated stabbing incident 2 months after he helped stop this terrorist. These guys are simply incredible.
First I’m sure if you’ve never heard of this film before you’re wondering what this supposed selling point is. Well, Clint Eastwood took a huge gamble with this film and decided that he wanted to cast the real-life people to play themselves. That’s right, the people you see play Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alex Skarlatos are their actual selves. In an article from the Hollywood Reporter, Eastwood ultimately took this decision for the sake of accuracy, however this high risk move very quickly lost its gamble because these three men don’t exactly give outstanding debut performances. When you look at these uncommon instances from past films, it’s even more uncommon that people playing themselves in a film about themselves works. The last film I can think of where this worked was Eminem in 8 Mile, but that was only because Eminem already had some kind of performance experience in his music videos. These three men’s experience in front of a camera has only been in interviews.
Furthermore, the child versions of Spencer (William Jennings), Anthony (Paul Mikél Williams) and Alex (Bryce Gheisar) give an equally poor performance showing how their friendship grows which should be setting the foundations of their friendship for how their lives turn out.
But while the acting is the most obvious and main reason why this film falters, this is only the tip of the iceberg as the story in the film is near enough 90% filler until you get to the events on the train that everyone wants to see. In a story like The 15:17 to Paris, you ideally want to explore the lives of these three men, who they are and the kind of things they live through that makes them take the penultimate decision of taking down an armed terrorist. But this exploration is done in the most boring and dullest way possible, it’s like watching the most cinematic holiday movie you’ve ever seen. The trip around Europe is utterly meaningless to the film unless you want to self-reflect on your own annoyances as a tourist.
Clint Eastwood as a director is known to have a very relaxed, calm approach to the films he makes. He doesn’t even like to call action to start a scene, instead he just let’s the crew set-up and let the actors go when they’re ready. Knowing this, I think that The 15:17 to Paris was maybe a bit too relaxed. I offer as my evidence several moments in the film where the film immediately cuts to another scene after a piece of dialogue is delivered. I know you’re thinking “well yes, that is how films are made”, but pay very close attention and you notice there’s not really a flow in the dialogue. Filmmakers will often let the camera roll on for a few seconds before the director says “cut”, but you can just tell that the camera cut immediately after the actors stopped talking. I like Clint Eastwood as an actor, but as a director, he just hasn’t convinced me yet of his auteurship.
The 15:17 to Paris is pretty much a dramatized real world story that fails to deliver on the drama and it just doesn’t work as an engaging film. The big experiment of having the real world people play themselves fails in a way that doesn’t drum up the respect we should be feeling for these people. What they did is remarkable, but the film doesn’t do their bravery justice. You can’t stay engaged because the film knows that what happened leading up to the train incident was never that interesting to begin with, resulting in tedious boredom. In all honesty, I think this story would have worked even better as a short film.