Clint Eastwood has not only become of the most iconic actors in multiple genre’s over the past 50 years, but one of the most talented and celebrated directors as well, which is no easy feat. And in recent years he has really been drawn to real life stories that have caught his attention in films such as Invictus, J. Edgar, American Sniper and Sully. Clint continues that trend with his new film The 15:17 to Paris but this time around he is doing something very unorthodox. He cast the actual people to play their filmic counterparts.
Based on true events, this is the story of friends Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone, three young Americans travelling through Europe in 2015 who thwarted a terrorist attack on a train bound for Paris. The film chronicles the lives of the friends through childhood, their teen years, their military service and leading up to the harrowing ordeal.
In theory, The 15:17 to Paris is a fantastic idea for a film. The actual events were captivating and a true act of heroism that saved countless lives. And telling that full story is something admirable in itself, bringing more attention to something good in the world. You would think in the hands of a master like Eastwood this would be a perfect situation. But the film falters on a few important points. First off, while the three leads do a pretty impressive job playing themselves, they still don’t convey the emotional heft that might have been brought by using professional actors. I get the idea, and you would think the real guys would bring an extra layer of emotional resonance to the film, but I think it actually did the opposite, it takes you out of the film to a certain degree. Secondly, I think the film spends far too much time on the lives of the three men from their childhoods on. Especially when it gets to the actual trip through Europe they were on. That whole section of film plays more like a Travel Channel special than a movie. Overall, the screenplay seems to be the weakest link, spending too much time on inconsequential times in their lives and sometimes foreshadowing in really obvious and distracting ways. When the film does get to the events on the train, it is a tense, exciting, well filmed sequence that is harrowing and incredible. But it is such a small part of the film it prevents it from being a film I would ever feel the need to rewatch.
In the end, The 15:17 to Paris is a curious experiment, an amazing real life story, but ultimately a ‘see-it-once’ story that should have been much more in the hands of such a great director.