It’s hard to be critical of a movie celebrating a heroic act when said heroes are also actors in the movie. Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of The 15:17 to Paris (based on the book by the same name) tells the true story of three best friends who thwarted a terrorist attack on a train from Amsterdam to Paris. One could argue that everything in their lives led to that one critical moment; that fate or God put the right people in the right place at the right time. One could also argue that this is a terrible movie.
The film begins when our heroes are ordinary junior high students. Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos are best friends whose antics are so closely associated that their single mothers (played by Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer) often visit school together to discuss the boys’ behavior with teachers and administrators. It is suggested that both boys have ADD and that their rambunctious behavior will lead to trouble down the line, especially when combined with single parent households. To this Spencer’s mom screams, “My God is bigger than your statistics,” and returns to a home heavily decorated in American flags. The fact that their family is Christian and patriotic is incidental to the fact that The 15:17 to Paris is so heavy-handed, making the characters feel like broadly painted archetypes, or, if I’m honest, stereotypes.
Though the film theoretically shows the path that leads these three men to be on The 15:17 to Paris, its point of view is strangely inconsistent. Spencer and Alek become fast friends with Anthony Sadler in junior high, but he promptly decides to change schools and fades solidly into the background. As the boys approach adulthood, the focus shifts to Spencer (now played by Spencer Stone himself). We’re given an in-depth look at his decision to join the military as well as his journey through training. Meanwhile, it’s barely noted that Alek has also joined the military and Anthony….is still in touch? His character remains a mere footnote in spite of being pivotal to the story.
By the time all three men (played by themselves) convene for a trip to Europe, the awkwardness is real. Instead of feeling like a movie of the week, it begins to feel like a prolonged reenactment from Rescue 911 (minus William Shatner’s expert narration, of course). This is also when Anthony develops his only memorable character trait – a penchant for using selfie sticks. When we finally reach the film’s climax on the train, the emotional impact has been lost to stilted dialogue, poor acting, and peculiar editing. The movie is well-intended and functional at best, clumsy and didactic at worst.
The Blu-ray Combo Pack contains the featurette “Making Every Second Count” in which Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler recount the dramatic real-life attack on the 15:17 to Paris. The making-of featurette “Portrait of Courage” is included on the Blu-ray Combo Pack and standard DVD editions.