Aww! But Moooom, I wanted to ride the 3:10 to Yuma!
As anyone that knows me very well knows, I’m uncultured swine. I don’t often keep up with current events in the stuff that others would deem important. In this case, the armed forces. I have zero idea of what’s going on overseas. So I guess now’s a good time to get myself educated and since it’s Clint Eastwood helming this project, you know you’re going to get the facts.
More than that, though, this movie seems pretty ambitious, casting the actual soldiers that were there for the event that actually occurred. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that. The closest is Kumail Nanjiani playing himself in THE BIG SICK (2017), but that’s it. Certainly not anything relating the military outside of documentaries. This could also lend itself to some minor issues. Because these men aren’t exactly actors, they may have poor line delivery. But once again, Eastwood is a quality filmmaker and it’s likely he’ll work around that, so it’s, again, likely that whatever reservations I have with it will be for nothing. Best to just get engrossed in the presentation.
The story looks pretty simple. These three soldiers, possibly friends their entire lives, enlist together, serve together, and eventually find themselves aboard a train where they get mixed up in a terrorist situation.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have the real-life soldiers, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Anthony Sadler. Actors include Judy Greer (POTTERSVILLE , JURASSIC WORLD , 27 DRESSES , 13 GOING ON 30 , and upcoming films WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?  and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP ), Jaleel White (DREAMGIRLS , 1 episode of TV show CASTLE [2009 – 2016], FAMILY MATTERS [1989 – 1998], and the upcoming THE BOBBY ROBERTS PROJECT ), Tony Hale (TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT , ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: ROAD CHIP , THE INFORMANT! , RV , and upcoming films LOVE, SIMON  and SADIE ), Jenna Fischer (BRAD’S STATUS , SLITHER , and EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH ), and Bryce Gheisar (WONDER  and A DOG’S PURPOSE ).
Now for the crew. Directing is the aformentioned Clint Eastwood, known for SULLY (2016), LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2006), and UNFORGIVEN (1992). Penning the screenplay is Dorothy Blyskal, making her feature film debut. The composer is Christian Jacob, known for SULLY. The cinematographer is Tom Stern, SULLY, THE HUNGER GAMES (2012), MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004), and the upcoming THE MEG (2018). Finally, the editor is Blu Murray, known for SULLY.
Overall, I bet this is going to be a pretty damn good movie. Not much more to say other than bring it on.
This is my honest opinion of: 15:17 TO PARIS
Set before the 2015 Thalys train attack. The story follows Spencer Stone (himself), Alek Skarlatos (himself), and Anthony Sadler (himself) through their childhood together and up until they reunite in Europe for a vacation and the inevitable attempted terrorist plot aboard the train from Amsterdam to Paris.
While I’m not on board the hate train (pun intended) like everyone else is, I can definitely see why this is getting critically panned and widely disliked from the masses. Having said that, I think it’s alright.
First and foremost, I don’t think the three leads are bad in their roles as… themselves. If I were to hazard a guess, there was no real script for the movie. It was just, “here’s a scenario, hang out and chat it up,” sort of deal. Borderline improv. Is that the real case? Probably not. Most likely not. But I stand by that they weren’t bad actors because I didn’t see dudes acting, I saw them hanging out. I think as I was watching this flick, I saw it as more pseudo-docudrama and that’s probably where the high tolerance came from. You know, you talk to every day people, sometimes they aren’t the most expressive, or have the most energetic and personable. Certainly I have friends like that and certainly there’s plenty of people who would accuse me of the same thing, but that doesn’t mean their personalities don’t shine through. Certainly Anthony’s the most personable of the three, but, I didn’t have a problem with the three leads. If you’re going in to see them be actors, then yeah, I can imagine it’ll be a hard sit, and probably for good reason. I just can’t say that I agree.
Maybe this is just the fanboy in me, but I love anything that Greer does and I thought to myself, say what you want about the three leads, Greer was really good, especially when Spencer’s a kid. She comes in and starts rambling about how much of a troublemaker he is and how hard it’s been for her. But Spencer, who you can tell isn’t a bad kid by nature, is trying to find something to say to diffuse the conversation. He’s not hiding from his misdeeds, but he’s failing to say anything of substance. It felt real. The tension, the raw emotions, it was legit drama. Sure, the scene’s been done before, but it was properly built up and I’ve seen scenes like this play out far worse and with far less justification. Even when Spencer is an adult, I really love the scene when he’s freaking out to his mom about how he’s been failing, he has a really great line that goes, “You know, before, I didn’t accomplish much. But I know it’s because I just didn’t try. Well this time, I did and I still failed. And that’s even worse!” I thought that was great. We saw him put forth that effort, losing weight, and failing for the stupidest of reasons, like not waking up on time. And that his mom couldn’t say anything to make him feel better, it’s kind of heartbreaking because it’s like she knows how far he’s come since his childhood and wants him to succeed where his passions lie.
And of course, the actual train scene is very well done and suspenseful. It really does make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time and are watching the event unfold. The way the three leads handle the situation, the direction of the action, it’s all completely visceral and wholly engaging. I loved it.
But it’s impossible to deny that this movie has its problems and they’re almost painfully obvious. For one thing, everyone seeing this movie is there to see what the event of the attempted terrorist attack was and maybe a few details to explain what lead up to it, and certainly a little bit of the ramifications that proceeded it. The trouble is, the train scene is only in the last, what, twenty minutes of the movie? Yeah, the rest of the runtime is almost complete filler. We have to go straight through their childhoods to where they met, which you’d swear to God was a whole different movie, like almost a bad kids movie about kids commenting about war. You have incredibly clunky and foreshadowy lines like, “There’s something about war, man.” What kid talks like that? Look, I won’t pretend I wasn’t ever that kid who romanticized the concept of going into my backyard with toy guns and killing my friends with plastic balls, but none of us, whether we were idiot kids to idiot teenagers, ever sat down and said, “Man, what a great thing war could be.” Um. No. That’s not how kids talk. This isn’t even a war film, and yet somehow this movie tried to make it one. There’s also this weird beat toward the end of the childhood scenes where young Spencer (William Jennings) and young Alek (Bryce Gheisar) are saying goodbye to each other because Alek’s moving away, and the scene is played up to be emotional. But there’s no point in it because in the beginning of the film, which come to think of it is randomly narrated by Sadler that they’ve been friends since childhood, while holding on a still shot of them in a car. So… why try and make their childhood goodbye scene emotional? We already know that they’re going to be reunited and even once we get to the scenes with them as adults, we see that they’ve maintained contact through the years.
From that point on, it’s a tedious walkthrough of how Spencer applies to nearly every single branch of the armed forces and seems to fail at all of them until he finds his niche as a medic. I know that I said above how his heartbreaking scene with how his failures suck, but to go through SO many in such lengthy detail? Come on, man. That shit could have easily been condensed. Anyway, in celebration of Spencer’s success when he finds that niche, he and Anthony go to Europe and it’s basically just them having fun. But it’s pure stuffing. We don’t really learn anything about these men. They just go around, taking selfies, eating food, checking out the sights. We never see them develop. The closest we get is another clunky-ass foreshadow scene where Spencer is all like, “You ever think life is pushing us in a different direction?” Oh, you mean like saving the day on a train about to be attacked by a terrorist? Why on Earth would you think that, good sir? For an Eastwood picture, it’s surprisingly heavy-handed again, which hasn’t been an issue in his films that I remember. It’s almost like the movie knows that it’s almost not about the incident itself, so it has to throw in reminders that this is the right movie that we’re all seeing.
And strangely enough, despite the movie supposed to be about these three guys, it feels more like it’s Spencer’s story. It’s his childhood we see more of and his relationship with his mother Joyce (Judy Greer), it’s his journey in discovering what he wanted to be in the armed forces, and it’s him that has these epiphanies about what he’s meant for. Why do Anthony and Alek get pushed to the wayside so much? Hey, for all I know, they specifically requested not to be prominently featured, and if that’s the case, fine. Still, it feels odd. But this does further add to the question marks of why it was Anthony that narrated the opening to the movie if Spencer was going to be the focus.
Overall, yeah, this movie isn’t very good. And coming out of Eastwood, that’s saying something. I certainly don’t hate it, and I don’t agree with the ratings that it’s been getting, but I won’t argue with them either. I see where the negativity comes from. As a recommendation, I say save it for a rental. You’re not missing much if you miss out on it all together, but I think it’s worth seeing if only to know what happened, and to see this fascinating experiment with the real life people playing themselves. It’ll be underwhelming, but it could be worse. Not as bad as everyone says… but you’d be better off riding the 3:10 to Yuma.
My honest rating for 15:17 TO PARIS: a weak 3/5
PS: Eager to know the details the movie left out? Then head on over to Amazon to pick up a copy of the book this movie is based on, The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes by Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Jeffrey E. Stern.