THE 15:17 TO PARIS (2018): Review by Brigid K. Presecky

Director Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris recreates the events that led up to three American friends stopping an armed terrorist on a train from Amsterdam to France. In an interesting twist, Dorothy Blyskal’s adaptation of the book by the same name is brought to life by the real-life heroes. Although no actors could recreate the climactic take-down precisely like the men who lived through it, their (expected?) lack of acting ability does a disservice to their true, inspirational story worth telling. (BKP: 3.5/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Because of the creative decision to cast the real men in the roles of themselves, I could easily slip into snark or reference back to the fake-baby situation Clint Eastwood used in American Sniper. But to simply scoff at the acting abilities – or lack thereof – of Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler would serve little to no purpose. Going into the film with that knowledge, acceptance and an open mind helps aid every cringe-worthy moment until the climax of the film, the moments on the train that are the reason for the film itself.

Credit goes to Eastwood for trying something new and different and bringing the real-life passengers back on the train to recreate the day that could have easily been much so tragic. However, the distraction of the non-actors takes away from what viewers should be focusing on – their actions. I’m classically conditioned to associate the film’s more seasoned actors with comedy – not through any fault of their own. Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, Thomas Lennon, Jaleel White and Tony Hale all make up the flashbacks to the boys’ young lives. Younger, anyway.

This list of talented comedic actors does not lead to laughter here, but rather fills in the gaps with non-characters like moms, teachers, principals and coaches that say the lines that do not sound real enough to be used by any real-life being. (See: fake baby). Again, I find myself walking a tightrope of critiquing the cheesiness of the film with expressing my gratitude for the people in it. Not surprisingly, the recreation of the events on the train and the true character of these men was the highlight. Had the film been condensed to these 20 minutes, it would have been a perfect score.

The missed target was in the more-or-less uneventful events that led up to it (i.e. Spencer’s employment at Jamba Juice, Anthony’s love of selfie sticks and Alek’s German heritage). Maybe the more compelling story would have taken place after the trauma. How did they deal with the pressure of the public eye? How did their families react? To throw in an allusion to Harry Potter, (because, why not?) the story should have started where it stopped, or rather, opened at the close.

© Brigid K. Presecky (2/11/18) FF2 Media

Photos: Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler; Spencer Stone

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Q: Does The 15:17 to Paris pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?


 My Two Cents: Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

What I admire about films like Flags of Our Fathers (2006), American Sniper (2014), and Sully (2016) is director Clint Eastwood’s ability to present true events without a shiny sugar coating. That effort is apparent in The 15:17 to Paris in its almost-painful realism. The mundane details in the lives of these young men aren’t presented all that well, but they do play to Eastwood and Dorothy Blyskal’s point: that these ordinary men accomplished something truly extraordinary; that literally hundreds of people potentially owe their lives to them, and that matters more than anything that came before.

The risky decision to put them back on the train not as only as heroes, but now as actors reliving a turning point in their lives, did not necessarily pay off in the first 100 minutes of The 15:17 to Paris, but that trademark Eastwood lack of sugar coating is what makes its inciting event memorable. Their heroism is not pretty; the train sequence is chaotic and intense, not action-packed or cheaply suspenseful. Up until that point, it isn’t a great film, but the greatness inside Alek, Spencer and Anthony in that moment is worth much more than any single movie could attempt to convey. Perhaps that’s what Blyskal was going for – a narrative structure that isn’t exceptional until it’s forced to be; that doesn’t consider itself heroic, but with just enough bravery, in the right place at the right time. (GEP: 3.5/5)

Photo: Clint Eastwood directs The 15:17 to Paris.

Photo Credit: Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros.

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Brigid Presecky began her career in journalism at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. In 2008, she joined FF2 Media as a part-time film critic and multimedia editor. Receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Bradley University, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked in development, production and publicity for Berlanti Productions, Entertainment Tonight and Warner Bros. Studios, respectively. Returning to her journalistic roots in Chicago, she is now a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and certified Rotten Tomatoes Film Critic.
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