When Clint Eastwood applies his considerable talent to any project, we’ve come to expect the best. His big awards and directorial nominations for “Million Dollar Baby (2004), “Mystic River” (2003), and most recently “American Sniper (2014) have been logged in because of his insight, expertise, and creativity. Disappointingly, “The 15:17 to Paris” doesn’t have the finesse or dramatic power of those other Eastwood blockbusters.
What it does have is an unusual and somewhat uncanny cast. The main three actors actually lived the events that provide the plot line for the film. If truth and fiction ever found the perfect mix, this is it. Eastwood chose not to make a documentary, but by casting the men who experienced the terror, he provides a strange blend of fact and fiction.
That the cast would be willing and have the psychological stamina to withstand a realistic return to the events of that day constitutes something of a miracle. Perhaps this film brings us face-to-face with a new normal. And the jury’s still out as far as whether or not making a movie cast with survivors of a terrorist attack smells of exploitation.
If you’ve ever boarded the bullet train at some location in Europe for a fast trip to Paris, then you know what it’s like to settle in to your seat as the world blurs by outside your window. Passengers are talking among themselves; some are sleeping; others reading. For three life-long friends who boarded the bullet train in Amsterdam, the experience was as normal as one could expect. That is, until a terrorist emerges from the bathroom with an assault rifle and the will to kill as many people as he can.
Destiny places Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone on that particular ill-fated train in August of 2015. As childhood friends, they’ve formed a close friendship over the years. It endures through moves and divorces, through stints in colleges and the military. Although each has his own reason for making the effort to rendezvous and to take the train together, their connectedness contributes to the decisive actions when they see the gunman making his way down the aisle.
Each one of the three risk his life for the safety of the other passengers. Thanks to Stone’s Army training, he acts before he thinks, tackling the terrorist and bringing him to the floor. Skarlatos jumps in to help while Sadler keeps the other passengers away from the fight. Thanks to their lightening quick responses, only one passenger suffers a gunshot wound, and he survives, mainly because after subduing the terrorist, Stone renders first aid.
Eastwood’s greatest challenge occurs with his having to expand these action-packed minutes into a full-length feature film. To do that, flashbacks weave back and forth from the past to set the tone and explain the relationships among the three heroes. Those interventions feel forced and uneven at times. Although flashbacks reveal something about the evolution of the past, they don’t provide enough psychological depth to explain the reactions witnessed on that fateful day, and that’s the source of the real missing magic.
Rated PG-13 on appeal for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language.
Marilyn Robitaille writes film reviews for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter.