When we heard that Clint Eastwood was behind the helm for the latest true-story-turned-film The 15:17 to Paris, we were already on board. But, a casting decision made us pause. The actual guys (non-actors all of them) – Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler – were being cast as themselves!
Wait…what? Why was Clint doing this? Was it because they were actually decent actors, on top of being heroes? Could that really be true? Or was Clint’s decision for authenticity going to bring down The 15:17 to Paris?
Since the beginning of the film takes place when the characters are younger, the viewer will have to wait a bit for the three heroes to do some acting. But, thankfully, there are several recognizable faces playing understated roles with aplomb in this section. Among these, Tony Hale (usually known for his comedy) stands out among the crowd as a gym teacher. Meanwhile, Thomas Lennon, P.J. Byrne, Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer each have their moments as well.
Once The 15:17 to Paris moves past the younger stage, the viewer is finally introduced to the real-life heroes Alek, Spencer and Anthony. Unfortunately, these guys can’t really act, which leads to several awkward moments as the film continues. It’s not really a surprise, but it’s a bit shocking Clint decided to keep them in the film anyway.
But, there may be a reason behind his madness. After all, The 15:17 to Paris is less a thriller than it is a documentary. While the earlier scenes are highlighted by some recognizable faces, the whole film plays off in a rather low-key way. This may cause the viewers some distress, since this style is reminiscent of recent horror flicks like HOSTEL. While the viewer unexpectedly begins waiting for something to go terribly wrong with these folks (prior to even the train incident), the film just continues it’s slow journey toward the part that everyone really wants to see – the heroes in action.
Even when that climactic train sequence does finally unfold in The 15:17 to Paris, that documentary feel never leaves the film, and even that sequence is played out rather dryly. While Eastwood does try to spice things up a bit by interjecting moments from the train sequence into various other parts of the film, when the scene finally plays out, the viewer feels a bit letdown. Maybe by that time, the viewer has gotten used to the awkward moments with these guys trying to act, and seeing those awkward moments even during the train sequence feels like a bit of a letdown.
Still, as a documentary, The 15:17 to Paris isn’t half bad. Like the book it’s based on, it gives viewer’s a glimpse of what went into building these characters, as well as showing exactly what happened on board the train that fateful day. At the same time, it shows that, unlike normal movie heroes, these guys aren’t infallible, they are simply just three guys who did the right thing. Not really due to love of country or belief in a higher power, but simply because it was the right thing to do.
And, their selfless acts on board the train that day is still a nice glimpse of what humanity can be, no matter how it’s showcased in The 15:17 to Paris. Would everyone do the same? Probably not, in this day and age. But it’s nice to know that there are some who will. Because of that, all hope is not lost. And that’s not a bad message to leave a movie with.