An amazing (true) story told amazingly poorly.
As a director, when Clint Eastwood gets it right, he gets it really right but when he doesn’t, he really doesn’t. With The 15:17 to Paris, it’s a classic example of Eastwood dropping the ball, big time.
This biographical thriller is based on the autobiography The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos. It stars Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos as themselves and reenacts their stopping the 2015 Thalys train attack. The decision for the trio to play themselves was really only ever going to go one of two ways, good or bad, and the way it has gone is really about as far away from the preferred option as possible.
So, what is wrong with the movie? A lot, but a great place to start is the script. The fact there is a script might come as some surprise as, at too many points than I care to remember, the film is riddled with scenes containing banal and cringingly awkward banter that goes nowhere and adds nothing. Getting selfies? Ordering gelato or pizzas? The humdrum chatter is relentlessly inane. Who saw this script, the final edit, or even any of the dailies, and thought, ‘Yeah, this is good to go!’
While I appreciate that someone spent time and effort penning this, this film contains some of the worst dialogue, performed so badly, that it makes The Room look like Shakespeare. It’s been a long time since a movie has had me shaking my head in disbelief as to how bad it is, but this had me doing exactly that. I have to be really honest and say that, at points, I genuinely thought to myself that I’ve heard better, more convincing, dialogue in adult movies.
Even from the first few moments of the film, there is staggeringly amateur, understandably perhaps, delivery of clichéd dialogue to set the whole thing up. You hope that it gets better, but it just gets worse. What is perhaps worst of all is that these guys, who are heroes and real friends in real life, seem to lack any chemistry whatsoever. I get that being with your buddies in your natural environment is different but here they are so far out of their comfort zone that it’s like putting a penguin in a bowling alley and expecting them to just fit in.
There were moments in this movie where I thought maybe Eastwood was making a mash-up of Eurotrip meets Under Siege – I half expected Matt Damon to pop up and sing ‘Scotty Doesn’t Know’ or Vinnie Jones to try opening beer bottles with his eyes. Hey, even Jaleel White, aka Steve Urkel, turns up as a teacher in the ‘early days’ section of the tale of our heroes, Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos and turns in a performance that is a high point in the movie. There are so many moments, and casting decisions, in The 15:17 to Paris that will leave you scratching your head as to why and how they happened and got approved – it is quite remarkable.
There are moments of action peppered early on in the piece but most of it is saved for the film’s finale, but by then you’ll probably be past caring. It’s not even handled that well and the sense of peril it recreates is low. If you can’t deliver tension in an act of terror on a busy train, there’s not a lot of hope. We know how this ends, there is no lead-up to it other than the formative years of the heroes, and that’s all over in a handful of minutes. This story would have been much better served if it had been recreated by professional actors in the three lead roles, not even well-known actors but simply good, with at least some backstory for the terrorist.
In 2016 Eastwood gave us Sully, the superbly executed story of a hero recreated by Hollywood professionals but in 2018, he gives us Sullied, the poorly executed story of three heroes that makes Hallmark movies look like potential award nominees. I don’t like to disparage people’s work but this is dreadful and desperately disappointing.