The 15:17 to Paris assumes three things about itself and its audience. One of these assumptions, for the record, turns out to be partly true using the movie as evidence of its merit. The other two assumptions, though, could be fatal if proven unworthy on similar bases of merit, and that is precisely what happens here. The first assumption is that the attempted attack on a train from Brussels to Paris in August 2015, carried out by a single terrorist and thwarted by a handful of people, is a story worthy of cinematic treatment. When it gets to that moment, director Clint Eastwood proves that such a story could work. It was a tense few minutes of chaos in a confined space, and such chaos could be compelling, given the right hands.
The second assumption is that Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, the three American men who were involved in the prevention of the attack (which only gravely injured one other man), are worthy of biographical treatment (The few others of different nationalities have been all but entirely forgotten, calling into question some priorities). Dorothy Blyskal's screenplay is based on a nonfiction account co-written by those three men (with Jeffrey E. Stern) and structures the event itself as a framing device for an extensive series of flashbacks that tell how they met as children (played by William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar, and Paul-Mikel Williams respectively) at the same Catholic school, a near-fascistic institute (whose faculty is represented by three comedic actors whose appearances are never not distracting) that frowns upon the singlehood of Spencer and Alek's mothers (played, also respectively, by Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer, both good in very limited roles).
We follow the trio as they become adults, which brings us to the third and final assumption: Eastwood promises that, in addition to their stories being interesting enough to tell, we would have enough faith in these three men to play themselves. The result is strange, as the affair becomes a story split between a reenactment of the real event and a litany of the events that, in the minds of the three men and the filmmakers, led them inexorably toward the moment that would define their lives. There are a handful of scenes that pay lip service to such fate-related topics, each of them rather painfully on-the-nose.
Otherwise, this is a sluggish and rambling effort. We watch as Spencer and Alek join separate branches of the United States military and reunite with Anthony (whose activities in the interim are apparently irrelevant) for a cross-continent tour through Europe, where they see a bunch of sights and order gelato desserts for two whole minutes (Yes, really). Heroes these three men might be, but Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler are not actors, delivering every line of dialogue with a wooden disposition, matching the lethargy that surrounds them. The 15:17 to Paris certainly attempts to honor these men, but the film feels redundant. Reading the account of their heroism is enough to acknowledge it. This movie is several steps too many.
Spencer Stone (Himself), Alek Skarlatos (Himself), Anthony Sadler (Himself), Judy Greer (Joyce), Jenna Fischer (Heidi), William Jennings (Younger Spencer), Bryce Gheisar (Younger Alek), Paul-Mikel Williams (Younger Anthony), Thomas Lennon (Principal Akers), Tony Hales (Coach Murray), Jaleel White (Mr. Walden), Mark Moogalian (Mark), Ray Corasani (Ayoub).
Directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Dorothy Blyskal, based on the book by Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Jeffrey E. Stern.
Rated PG-13 (bloody images, violence, suggestive material, drug references, language).
Released on February 9, 2018.