I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Connor Bynum // Film Critic
THE 15:17 TO PARIS
Coming off two critically-acclaimed films based on the true stories of American heroes (AMERICAN SNIPER and SULLY), director Clint Eastwood seems to have found his new niche in the late stages of his career.
Inspired by a 2015 foiled terrorist attack on a train from Amsterdam to Paris, THE 15:17 TO PARIS follows the stories of the three young men (Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler) responsible for stopping the armed gunman.
Movie Grade: D+
The main marketing push for this movie was the fact that Eastwood made the decision to cast the three young men who stopped the attack to play themselves for his retelling rather than cast professional actors. While this is a bold move, it ultimately creates a painful viewing experience for the viewer. Every line of dialogue is delivered with high school theatre quality at best as these men are simply not trained in this field. The same can be said even more so when it comes to the child actors tasked with playing the younger versions of the three main characters. It almost feels as though their scenes were shot chronologically in that their dynamic does seem to improve over time. Or, it could be that I simply got used to their stiff performances by the time their characters grow up.
In spite of a bland script that crawls by at a shockingly brief 94 minutes, THE 15:17 TO PARIS is at its best when Eastwood ramps up the tension in two particular scenes. The first is about half way through the film when Spencer decides to defend his classroom from a potential armed intruder. The second is the main event that inspired the film in the first place, which almost makes the audience forget just how bland the previous hour had been. The attack itself is a gripping scene that clearly took up most of Eastwood’s attention during pre-production. However, one ten minute sequence of true bravery and heroism is hardly enough to justify an entire feature film.
Read Courtney Howard’s theatrical review here.
Video/Audio Grade: B+
The film was captured in 3.4K and finished in a 2K Digital Intermediate making for a rather stellar presentation on Blu-ray. Textures on costumes and skin tones are clear, but some finer details like text on small screens had me squinting on more than one occasion. Eastwood implements his traditional muted color scheme to make for a more grounded approach and this helps the film stand up alongside the rest of his filmography, at least from a visual perspective.
The Dolby Atmos track is a nice touch, but frankly only feels like it’s going to good use during the final act on the train. Overall, this is a perfectly fine HD experience, but it isn’t going to turn any heads.
Extras Grade: C+
There are two features included on the Blu-ray disc that heavily focus on the attack on the train. One breaks down the events of the attack in detail from the first hand accounts of the people who were there and the other discusses the decision to cast nearly everyone on the train to play themselves in the film. Neither feature ends up overstepping its welcome, but will hardly warrant a repeat viewing.
- Making Every Second Count – Join Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler – the three Americans who stopped the attack – as they take us moment-by-moment through the real-life drama, just as they lived it. (Blu-ray exclusive)
- Portrait of Courage – Join Oscar winner Eastwood and his creative team as they reveal the aspects of the story that moved them and why they took the bold step of casting the three Americans to play themselves in the film.
Final Grade: C+
While the film makes a formidable turn on Blu-ray, THE 15:17 TO PARIS would have made for a much more interesting HBO documentary than a feature film. While the acts of bravery from the three young men, as well as several other passengers on the train, are undoubtedly worthy of recognition, it’s safe to say that a feature film probably wasn’t the best way to do it.
Our interview with Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler: