“15:17” a Well-Intended Misfire
If good intentions were all that were needed to craft a successful motion picture, Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris, would be one of the finest films in the director’s long and storied career. In bringing the real-life heroics of Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone (the three young Americans who foiled a terrorist attack on a France-bound train in 2015), to the screen the director asked them to portray themselves, just two weeks before cameras were to begin to roll. Who can blame the trio for jumping at the opportunity and while Eastwood’s intent may have been to add verisimilitude to the project, it backfires in the end.
On August 21, 2015, Skarlatos, Sadler and Stone found themselves on a train from Stockholm to Paris. Their trip was interrupted when a terrorist, armed with over 300 rounds of ammunition and a variety of weapons, made his presence known, about to slaughter anyone that crossed his path. The quick thinking of some passengers helped prevent the gunman from starting his rampage and the three young Americans subdued him before any serious damage was done.
It’s an incredible story but trying to build an entire film around this single incident proves problematic. Flashbacks show the trio as constantly in trouble middle schoolers whose friendship endures over the years despite a great deal of turmoil and difficulty. Skarlatos and Sadler eventually join different branches of the armed forces, which help transform them into well-meaning upstanding citizens, while Stone follows his own path towards maturity.
This is all well and good but rather unremarkable. Dorothy Blyskal’s script certainly doesn’t help matters as it’s extended sequences showing the trio traipsing around Europe – seeing the sights and frequenting nightclubs – comes off as just so much filler, which is exactly what it is. The scenes showing the boys playing war and defying authority come off as mundane, boys-will-be-boys moments that have been done much better in other films.
While Eastwood offers us brief glimpses of the heroic rescue-to-be throughout the film as if to keep us interested, getting there is drudgery as the scenes leading up to it prove repetitious, with some very poorly written. That being said, the difference between a trained actor delivering ham-fisted dialogue and a well-intentioned amateur becomes woefully obvious and works against the movie. Stone delivers his lines too quickly, as if he’s afraid to forget them, while Skarlatos and Sadler are rather self-conscious; obviously, none of this is their fault and the three should be commended for undertaking this task
That being said, the climactic sequence that recreates what these three brave men did is exciting, bracing and all-too real, all of which underscores how self-less and heroic the trio truly were. It is a remarkable 20 minutes of filmmaking in which Eastwood’s craftsmanship is obvious as he creates an immediacy and seeming spontaneity to this moment. It’s so of the moment and engaging that it nearly saves the film. Unfortunately, far too much of 15:17 plays like an armed forces recruitment film and European travelogue to be a completely engaging film.