Directed by Clint Eastwood and based on a true story, The 15:17 to Paris depicts the bravery of three friends who saved over 500 people through their actions. On 21 August 2015, a man boarded a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, armed with an assault rifle. The attack was stopped and assailant apprehended thanks to three young heroes. The 15:17 to Paris depicts the lives of Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos leading up to the event, and sees the three men play themselves.
On paper, The 15:17 to Paris must have looked like it was ripe for an adaptation to film. It is a tale of long-lasting friendship, overcoming the challenges of life, courage and heroism. It is admirable the way that Eastwood, whose work is consistently concerned with heroes from all walks of life, has gone about making the feature. Rather than casting Spencer, Anthony and Alec, he had the non-actors play themselves. It’s all very commendable, yes, but the poor fellows, who are really lovely lads, cannot act.
Supporting them is a massive plethora of characters, with cast members including the likes of Jenna Fischer (The Office), Judy Greer (13 Going on 30), Thomas Lennon (17 Again), Jaleel White (Family Matters) and Tony Hale (Arrested Development). Their roles are very small and conventional. One gets the sense that their main reason for doing the movie is to get to work with Clint Eastwood - and in fairness, who wouldn’t?
The film is watchable, moving at a good pace thanks to its short scene structure, and maintains a sense of anticipation thanks to cutting between the past and the train attack (although these flash forwards to the main event become, as the film progresses, less and less frequent). It is bogged down though by a pretty poor standard of acting, and not just by the three leads but also several of the other actors. Characters alternate between being over-dramatic and totally wooden, and while the dialogue has a natural style about it, its delivery is painfully stilted, while the editing feels rough around the edges at times.
Regarding plot, we progress from the characters as trouble-making kids to them as grown ups, with Spencer being the main point of focus. Watching his trials in the army is interesting (again, this is a territory we’ve seen Eastwood delve in before) but as the film follows the three lads’ trip around Europe, one increasingly feels like attempts to pad a film around the train attack are failing. It just feels forced and formulaic, desperately clutching at straws. There’s even a scene where the friends go to a night club which seems so indulgent and ill-fitting. It’s obvious that getting the film to its eventual 93 minute running length was a challenge.
While the recreation of the event itself is effective, it doesn’t really make up for the humdrum that came before. We’re not dissing the story, which is an incredible, inspirational one. It’s just painfully obvious there wasn’t enough material there to make it into a movie.