Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Dorothy Blyskal
Starring: Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer
Runtime: 94 Minutes
The 15:17 to Paris is based on the events of the 2015 Thalys train attack, in which three young army recruits (Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos) amongst others stopped a gunman on a Paris-bound train travelling from Amsterdam via Brussels. The unique gimmick here is that the three leads are actually playing themselves on screen in a dramatic re-enactment of the event, but it comes after an entire movies worth of backstory for the three heroes.
There are two immediate errors of judgement to be taken from a well-meaning intention such as this. One being that by casting the three soldiers as themselves, it robs the film of a great deal of dramatic tension, because even if you’ve never heard the story before, you know they make it out alive because they’re here re-enacting it for us.
The second being that as trained soldiers cast in dramatic roles, their range is going to be somewhat limited given their near complete lack of background experience in either acting or performing. The chemistry that the three men share is seen in moments where they appear to share natural chemistry, but much like 2012’s Act of Valor that was sold on a similar tactic, they don’t really give us much more than the authenticity of being able to actually play themselves. It certainly allows the news footage to blend seamlessly at the climax, but that's about it.
Director Clint Eastwood is no stranger to making a particular mould of picture; true to life stories that focus on the analysed actions of characters who fulfil archetypal masculine roles when placed into unexpected situations fulfilling acts of heroism.
But this experimental picture is somehow even worse than his efforts on American Sniper, and much like that he has utterly failed to find a dialogue of discussion concerning its central characters or even developing their roles beyond a stripped-down approach that he’s most comfortable presenting it with, and a clear level of hero worship toward the U.S. Military. The confrontation in the third act that it's all been building to is actually decently staged with a sense of violent and claustrophobic panic, but it lasts only a matter of minutes doesn’t justify the heavy build up.
It doesn’t help that the dialogue is almost infantile and serves little to no function for many of its scenes and pointless, meandering and inert conversations that might be mistaken for adding depth or purpose beyond moments of incredibly awkward foreshadowing. Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer do pop up to liven it up a little, but even they can't fight against the dialogue they have to read.
Eastwood has been struggling to get back on the wagon of directorial influence for a while now, and with this, he’s resorted to the safest position he could find with a topic that he doesn’t even seem that interested in other than the option to try something that he hasn’t already.