It brings me no joy to try and review the performances of three real-life heroes - Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone. These real-life heroes are amazing men. Unfortunately, they aren't interesting people to watch sightsee around Europe in a movie for 90 minutes. Clint Eastwood has made a noble experimental failure in The 15:17 to Paris, but that should not diminish these men and their inspiring acts.
Eastwood's main misstep is that he doesn't know how to make a full-length film about an event that lasted about 10 minutes. His other misstep may have been to cast the real-life people as the lead actors in this retelling. When the film finally gets to the heroic act, it works wonderfully. The emotional impact of seeing the real-life heroes from multiple nationalities work together and save lives is stirring and rousing. However, leading up to this event we get a strange mix of religion, opinion, patriotism, and friendship that manages to say a lot of things but add up to nothing.
Eastwood has been on a kick of telling stories about regular people, often just living life, who get thrust into heroism. His film Sully was a more traditional approach, casting a movie star like Tom Hanks to embody the real man. I love the idea on paper of making the real men the stars of the film about them. However, in reality, this translates to stilted line readings and forced emotions on screen.
The 15:17 to Paris follows the three men as kids, who routinely get into trouble. It then jumps to follow Spencer as he goes through basic training. All the time the script hammers home the idea that Spencer feels a greater calling like God is driving him to a big moment. While it is interesting to see that these three men were uniquely trained to be ready for the terrorist attempt on the train, the film struggles to get inside who these men are. For all the time we spend with the real guys, I don't feel I know or understand them any better than I would have had I read a news article about them.
Eastwood doesn't seem to know them that well either. He makes some strange casting choices around them. Every side character is played by a comedian. This tactic becomes increasingly distracting culminating in an odd appearance by Urkel actor Jaleel White.
The wandering nature of the film and aimless trajectory it takes becomes increasingly tiresome. I was relieved when we finally got to the train, a feeling I am not entirely sure should be present while watching a potential tragedy unfold. Eastwood knows how to direct action and it shows in the film's final act. However, it comes too late to make up for the boring film that precedes. The film is also frustratingly American-centric, never given any attention to British passenger Chris Norman or the other people who tried to stop things. Everyone here deserves better.