This review will have SPOILERS only because this movie was so bad, I feel I deserve to indulge myself and fully criticize what is maybe the worst screenplay and plot I have ever witnessed.
When Clint Eastwood gave us Sully in 2016, there was a lot of excitement. Tom Hanks playing a real-life hero who saved a whole bunch of people by landing an airplane on the Hudson River – it’s a cool story, but it’s a painfully short story. What Eastwood did to fill up his 96 minutes was show us the main event about three different times, then fill the rest of the film with an over-embellished aftermath story that literally goes nowhere. Two years later, Clint Eastwood gives us The 15:17 to Paris, a movie that makes Sully look like it has a plot as thick as Pulp Fiction. Every single narrative technique and plot point that made Sully so painful and pointless is exponentially increased for this film, making for easily the worst film of the year so far.
The 15:17 to Paris tells the true story of three American men who stopped a mass shooter aboard a passenger train in 2015. Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone are heroes, and got prestigious medals from both the French and United States governments for their actions. The plot of the film follows the lives of Skarlatos, Sadler, and Stone, from elementary school, to their time in the military, and their vacation in Europe, before they ultimately found themselves aboard the 15:17 to Paris.
The previous paragraph is my gracious, objective plot synopsis that I’m required to crank out at the beginning of each review. What follows is a more accurate plot synopsis of what this movie actually is.
Watch as three boys gets bullied together in school by a bunch of unresolved clichés! Then keep watching as one of those boys gets a Rocky-style training montage as he loses weight to get into the military! Stay right where you are so you don’t miss a second as two young men discover how disappointing the military can be! But wait, because this movie also comes with over half an hour of three young Americans dicking around in Europe! Then sit back as none of these things culminate in an intense five minutes where they finally do the thing we already know they’re going to do!
I’ve seen a lot of bad movies. I’ve sat through a lot of bad screenplays. But never before have I watched a movie where more than half the story is completely irrelevant. And when I think about it, I would have been ecstatic if even half of this movie’s story was relevant, because it’s far less than that. The only thing that this movie does plot-wise is show us that in their entire lives, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone have only ever done one noteworthy thing. Everything else is not only unexciting, but unresolved and so painfully unworthy of being put into a movie.
The story is the overarching element of this movie that makes it terrible, but there are plenty of other things along the way. The writing itself is atrocious, with cringe-worthy dialogue and awkward, inconsistent references and plugs about God, overmedication of children, and the glory of war. Perhaps the worst thing of all, though, is screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal’s failed attempts to tie together the random, unconnected series of events. During the middle of the movie where the main characters are doing nothing in Europe, Blyskal writes in this shameless recurring theme where they can’t decide whether they should go to Paris. It’s blatant and almost insulting foreshadowing. Even worse, it’s literally the only thing that ties that part of the movie to the main event.
Finally, I’ll get to the main, and probably the easiest thing to cringe about in this movie. Eastwood made the decision to cast the actual Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone to play themselves. Yes, their acting is terrible. What it does do is allow a few less prestigious actors like Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, and Tony Hale to steal the spotlight with some uninteresting characters. A few acting school grads also get their moment to shine in their one or two scenes where we think they are giving incredible performances, if only because our singular point of reference are Skarlatos, Sadler, and Stone.
Skarlatos, Sadler, and Stone are bad actors, yes, but I can see the logic behind Eastwood’s decision. Trying to recreate the train scene exactly how it happened is a credible concept. The problem is that this falls to shambles when you discover that the shooter was actually first tackled by a French guy who turned down all the medals and refused to have his name publicized as a precaution for his safety. What this means is that shot in the trailer (and the film) of Stone bravely running down the train car to tackle a guy pointing a gun at his head never happened. Yes, Skarlatos, Sadler, and Stone helped the French guy take him down, but since they weren’t the only ones doing it, Eastwood isn’t recreating the scene. He’s just creating a scene kind of like it. And if he’s not recreating the scene, then having Skarlatos, Sadler, and Stone play themselves is dishonest is nothing more than casting three bad actors.
I give The 15:17 to Paris a 1.0/10