Film Review: The 15:17 to Paris

The 15:17 to Paris is a pretty bland recreation of the facts leading up to the 2015 Thalys terrorist train attack, and it’s notable for featuring lots of non-actors playing themselves, including the three guys who fought off the gunman.

It’s not too unusual for ‘as themselves’ types to turn up in all sorts of movies, often in joke or novelty cameos, but producer/director Clint Eastwood goes one step further here and has Spencer Stone, Alec Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler as his actual stars, and it’s a risky move that occasionally makes proceedings seem awfully real — but, more often, really awkward.

Constructed as a series of flashbacks, with brief snippets in between of what happened on the train, this opens in 2005 with the young Spencer and Alec (Cole Eichenberger and Bryce Gheisar) lightly rebelling at their Christian high school, and befriending the young Anthony (Paul-Mikel Williams) during a visit to the headmaster’s office (he’s played by Thomas Lennon, better known as a funnyman, and it shows). Anthony’s cool enough to say “Hell”, regardless of the God-fearing consequences, and soon the trio is playing with toy guns and getting into so much trouble that Alec is forced to go and live with his Dad in Oregon (and Anthony vanishes from the story for a long stretch).

The older, jumbo Spencer then becomes mostly the focus as he hopes to join the military in some kind of specialist capacity, and after losing weight and getting fit and trying hard in all the exams he still struggles, and you wonder how he felt about Clint making him seem a bit of a fool. Alec also joins up and serves in Afghanistan, and eventually he and Spencer meet and holiday in Rome and Venice, as a corny version of Volare tinkles in the background.

They’re joined by Anthony, who wisely has stayed out of the army, and the three are, of course, on Thalys train #9364 in the early evening of August 21 2015, and present as a terrorist (Ray Corasani) loads up a rifle in the lavatory and emerges ready for a massacre. Some might take issue with the fact that he’s not named until the end, he says nothing and his specific motives are never revealed, but perhaps that’s Clint and his screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal’s point: he’s just there and the lads have to leap into selfless action in a sequence that’s quite well-staged but doesn’t properly compensate for all the dopey, plodding stuff that came before.

Drawn from the book by Spencer, Alec, Anthony and Jeffrey E. Stern (The 15:17 To Paris: The True Story Of A Terrorist, A Train, And Three American Soldiers), this will be adored by Americans who love their real-life heroes and can see past the uneasy playing, especially by Stone, who looks even worse when he’s forced to emote alongside Judy Greer, who plays his Mom and is, you know, a real actor. Everyone else needn’t bother boarding.

Rated M. The 15:17 to Paris is in cinemas now.

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