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On August 21, 2015, Americans Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, on vacation in Europe, stopped a gunman on a train from Amsterdam to Paris. It was a heroic act and these men, and those who assisted them, should absolutely be praised for doing what most would have been unable to do. In The 15:17 to Paris, four-time Best Director Oscar nominee (and two-time winner) Clint Eastwood honors them by telling their story. Even more than that, he allows Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler to tell their own story, sort of. The film is a dramatization, but the three play themselves, reenacting parts of their lives up to, and including, that moment. This project has much to appreciate about it. Unfortunately, though its intentions are admirable, the film itself is not very interesting.
The story begins with Spencer, Alek and Anthony as pre-teens at a Catholic school. Spencer and Alek are already friends. They meet Anthony when they are all called to the principal’s office at the same time. They become fast friends. And that is the bulk of the backstory. There is some more stuff about them growing older and becoming their own men. And some more from the trip to Europe.
I understand what Eastwood and his first-time screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal (adapting the 2016 non-fiction book by Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler, along with Jeffrey E. Stern), are attempting to do. They want viewers to see who these men are before they show the incident that defines their story. Unfortunately, until they get on the train, The 15:17 to Paris is completely lacking in drama. The three leads seems like nice enough guys, but there is very little in the way of story. The movie never really engages with them, so it just becomes “meet these guys and then, hey, this thing happened!” That makes the first three-quarters or so quite boring.
That climactic sequence, though, is fantastically executed. Since some of the people who were there that day are in the scene, my guess is that it is a pretty faithful reenactment. Regardless, it is a very realistic scene. There is no flash to it at all. It is visceral, intense and possesses a strong you-are-there quality. It has a desperation usually not found in big-screen confrontations of this type. I am not sure Eastwood would have been able to achieve that feel if he did not have Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler playing themselves. There is an honesty that just could not have been duplicated, even by professional actors.
Speaking of professional actors, the three leads are surrounded by some good ones in small roles. The two biggest supporting roles go to Michigan native Judy Greer as Spencer’s mom, Joyce, and Jenna Fischer as Alek’s mom, Heidi. Then there is Thomas Lennon as their school principal and Tony Hale, P.J. Byrne and Jaleel White as teachers. None of them are given a whole lot to do, but it is nice to see them. They keep things together well enough. Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler are all perfectly fine playing themselves. Especially in the scene on the train.
Overall, The 15:17 to Paris is a good idea that just did not turn out to be a good movie. I appreciate what Eastwood was going for. It is an honorable and very respectful tribute to three men who performed a remarkably brave act. But, with the exception of the scene depicting that act, it is incredibly directionless. There is very little point to the majority of the movie. And that is a shame.
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews
Check out Ben’s last movie review on Faces Places.