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Murray Journal

Dan's Review: Despite true heroism, "The 15:17 to Paris" is a realistic train wreck

Feb 13, 2018 12:24AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Spencer Stone in The 15:17 to Paris - © 2018 Warner Bros.

The 15:17 to Paris (Warner Bros.)

Rated PG-13 on appeal for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language.

Starring Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Mark Moogalian, Isabelle Risacher Moogalian, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Ray Corasani, Chris Norman, Tony Hale, Thomas Lennon, Jaleel White, Paul-Mikel Williams, Max Ivutin, Bryce Gheisar, Cole Eichenberger, William Jennings, P.J. Byrne, Vernon Dobtcheff, Matthew Barnes.

Written by Dorothy Blyskal, based on the book by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos.

Directed by Clint Eastwood.



People love heroes. We love them so much that we are often willing to overlook their flaws and mistakes, placing them on unrealistic pedestals. Often, heroes are just regular folk who are brave enough to make hard choices and risk their lives for others. In fictional and “based on” true events films the heroes are frequently embellished to the point of preposterous caricatures, with chiseled A-listers portraying their deeds in true Hollywood fashion. Such is not the case for The 15:17 to Paris, the true story of three Americans who stopped a terrorist from wiping out a trainload of passengers in France. Director and Producer Clint Eastwood opted out of the chiseled A-listers and offered the roles to the actual heroes instead.

Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos play themselves. Stone is an Air Force airman, Skarlatos an Oregon National Guardsman, and Sadler their civilian pal since junior high – all on a backpack tour of Europe in the summer of 2015. Before getting to their historic encounter, we are taken back to their childhood roots (William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar and Paul-Mikel Williams play the trio as boys) where they forge a bond of friendship. Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer play Spencer and Alek’s single mothers as the boys struggle to find their way through the challenges of puberty. Additionally, Tony Hale, Thomas Lennon and Jaleel White (a.k.a. “Urkel”) play some of the Jr. high teachers and administrators. Flashing forward, we are led through the mundane points of their European vacation, with stops in Italy, Germany and Amsterdam – where they board that fateful train to Paris. Their actions prevent a mass killing at the hands of and ISIS extremist who was carrying more than 300 rounds of ammunition, with intent of killing every person on the train.

First, allow me to express my deepest respect for Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos (along with an English fellow named Chris Norman also helped subdue the terrorist after Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos knocked him unconscious). They are true heroes, and deserve all the accolades given them by the French government and others. Such acts of bravery should not be overlooked, and despite what I feel about Clint Eastwood’s film or his decision to cast the real-life heroes in it, I am sincerely moved by their courageous deeds. Stone was cut pretty deep by the terrorist’s knife, and still managed to use his paramedic training to save a passenger’s life who was shot by the terrorist.

Now, for how I feel about the movie: 

It stinks, plain and simple. Not only was it a bad idea to cast three regular guys in the leading roles with no acting experience, The 15:17 to Paris suffers from a very dull, uneventful story, highlighted by a very intense scene at the end. There’s a reason you cast actors for roles like these. It’s because they have expertise, talent and screen presence, something that often takes years to develop. You wouldn’t send actors to war without appropriate training, so why would you send soldiers to act in films without the proper tools of the trade? The lack of acting talent seems to rub off on the professional actors as well, especially Jenna Fischer, who isn't capable of shedding actual tears when she attempts to cry in one scene.

Besides the terrible choice of having “real” people play leading roles in The 15:17 to Paris, the movie feels like a long tourism brochure for Europe, as if you’re watching a Rick Steves travel special on PBS (with the aforementioned bloody terrorist attack at the end). I don’t know why Clint Eastwood felt it was necessary to add so much Euro-filler, except maybe there wasn’t enough content to fill 90 minutes of screen time. That seems to be the case, and perhaps The 15:17 to Paris might have been presented more appropriately as a network TV special or a History Channel reenactment. 

Sometimes, "real life" isn't ready for the big screen.

The 15:17 to Paris Trailer