Clint Eastwood’s new film, The 15:17 to Paris, is a lazy attempt to bring an inspiring story to the silver screen. Eastwood sets out to honor three Americans who thwarted a terrorist attack aboard a train from Amsterdam to Paris, both by telling their story and by casting the actual men to play themselves. These real-life heroes—Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos—all handle their roles well, especially considering the circumstances. Unfortunately, the script is subpar, and the direction fails to capture any real drama.
The 15:17 to Paris sets the stage early on, opening with a terrorist making his way onto the train. The movie is then told through a series of flashbacks, which portray the struggles of our protagonists from childhood to their act of heroism. Alek and Spencer, best friends and next-door neighbors, share a love of the military and (toy) guns. Anthony, who is known as a troublemaker, befriends the boys at school during another trip to the principal’s office. In junior high, the trio spend most of their days staging battles and dissecting military plans, but they are split up due to unforeseen circumstances once high school approaches. Spencer and Alek both follow their dreams of joining the military, while Anthony stays home to get his college degree. They remain close during their teenage years, and eventually find themselves on the trip of a lifetime: a backpacking adventure through Europe.
Instead of building up tension regarding the confrontation on the train, Eastwood instead takes the audience on a backpacking trip of their own, one filled with sightseeing and selfies. There is no relevant information relayed in these scenes, and they feel more like filler than anything else. Seemingly providing no direction to his rookie actors, Eastwood’s gambit doesn’t exactly pay off here, and it’s completely his fault: He manages to turn these real people into robots who are only destined to do this “one thing.” During the movie’s climactic moment on the train, the setting feels abnormally hollow. In what will be the most terrifying moment of these passengers’ lives, there are no screams, no commotion, no emotion. There are no music or sound effects to set the tone. This might have been done on purpose, to focus our attention on these three men, but it makes for a very empty and unrealistic finale. The film only manages to humanize these heroes in its final moments, through footage of them receiving France’s Legion of Honour.
It’s unclear if this film was intended to be a love letter to the trio or just a piece of spiritual propaganda, but it comes across more like a big-budget Lifetime movie than a well-documented account of heroism. Eastwood somehow took a real-life tale of grace under pressure and made it feel unrealistic. Paris would have been better suited as a documentary, as it fails in telling its story properly. These men were responsible for saving countless lives—they deserve a better tribute than this.