Blu-ray Review: The 15:17 to Paris

By , Contributor
I wanted to like The 15:17 to Paris. Make that love. I wanted to love director Clint Eastwood's The 15:17 to Paris (now available from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD). The true story of how three American friends (two of them members of the United States Armed Forces) thwarted a terrorist attack aboard a train bound from Amsterdam to Paris, August 21, 2015, is deservedly legendary. The heroic trio, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos, told their own story in the book The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes, with help from writer Jeffrey E. Stern. That book served as the basis for this film.

Eastwood's previous ripped-from-recent-headlines biographical film, Sully, was admittedly kind of shaky. The story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger's (played by Tom Hanks) daring, one-in-a-million water landing of a cripple jetliner turned out to be something less than cinematic. Some of those same problems plague 15:17, which features one highly compelling sequence—the terrorist attack itself, and the incredibly brave actions that stopped it from claiming any lives—padded with a lot of tangentially-related backstory about Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos' upbringing and early adult lives.

Much has been made about Eastwood's decision to cast the actual, real-life men to play themselves rather than hiring experienced actors. You'll find no argument here that actors should've been employed, unknown or otherwise. Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos could have instead been featured in minor, cameo-type roles. But I'm not going to beat up on these three guys. Number one, who can blame them for taking the opportunity of a lifetime? Number two, if anyone is to blame it's Dorothy Blyskal for her amazingly bland screenplay and Eastwood himself, who struggles to dramatize the non-action scenes (i.e. anything that doesn't involve the fateful train ride).

The truth is, even if Eastwood had cast, say, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, and John Boyega, they wouldn't have been able to bring interest to gelato-ordering at an ice cream parlour. There are a couple "name" actors—Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer, both playing moms—early on, as we learn a little about the trio's childhood. But the bulk of the film is sort of a travelogue, chronicling in dull detail a European vacation taken by the friends prior to boarding the train that would change their lives. This stuff isn't just boring, it's the antithesis of onscreen drama. Maybe Blyskal's dialogue was deliberately "dumbed down" so as to be easier for the non-actors to handle. Which leads back to the question of, why cast these guys in the first place? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

So yes, the acting is decidedly subpar and the writing is decidedly subpar. And, aside from the thrillingly visceral and realistic train sequence that climaxes the film, Eastwood's direction is subpar. Is this unprecedented? Perhaps. I can think of major studio productions that featured ONE non-actor in a key role (remember Bob Dylan in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid? How about Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III?), but all THREE leads being non-actors? Unheard of in a production of this prestige level. Again, the nominal stars themselves range in charisma from blank-expressed (Alek Skarlatos) to passable-for-a-direct-to-video-indie (Anthony Sadler). But really all elements of the filmmaking combined for a result that's difficult to recommend.

Warner Bros. Blu-ray edition (which includes a choice between Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mixes) helps flesh out the story with two decent featurettes. "Making Every Second Count" (eight minutes) is a too-short but quite interesting look at the production of the film. "Portrait of Courage" (12 minutes), while also a bit too concise, offers a compelling look at the men responsible for the story being told. With an actual full documentary about Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos (not to mention seriously-injured train passenger Mark Moogalian, who also plays himself—quite strikingly, too—in the film), rather than the stilted drama of Eastwood's biopic, this might've been an essential release.
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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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