Watched: 9 February

A film about the incredible story of three very brave young American backpackers, who tackled and subdued an armed man before he could murder an entire train’s worth of people en route to Paris. Director Clint Eastwood has even cast all three men as themselves in his latest film, which is a brave, meta move, albeit one that ultimately means The 15:17 to Paris often looks, sounds and feels like a bad TV movie. We shouldn’t judge the film solely on their acting, of course – these guys are non-professionals, and it’s worth considering just how traumatic reconstructing many of these scenes might have been for them – but there has to be a question mark over Clint’s direction, as every other performance in this film (ie those undertaken by professionals) is below the standards you might expect.

Structurally it resembles the superior Sully, teasing glimpses of the train incident throughout before we get to see it in full during the final act; and like that earlier film you get a sense of Eastwood’s fascination with ordinary people who are suddenly forced to step up to the plate and become heroes in order to save the day – and he really emphasises the mundanity of their school lives and careers in a big way, which serves to underline just how abnormal that big moment is/was. Unfortunately the ruminations on destiny – in a nutshell, God has a plan for us all – that are contained throughout are cringe-inducing, and there’s a horror-show of a sequence that follows the three men as they backpack around Europe; whoever thought it would be a good idea to score the arrival of two characters in Rome with stereotypically-French accordion music, for example, needs to take a good, long look at themselves.

A final thought: one of the three men, Anthony Sadler, serves as the narrator at the start; the narration is dispensed with fairly soon thereafter, and we learn next-to-nothing about Anthony’s family, education or career subsequently, although two family members (parents?) do show up during the real-life footage of a reception with François Hollande that appears at the end. With regard to the other two, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, we see plenty of their mothers and their military careers. That seems a tad strange, but is perhaps indicative of a lackadaisical approach by Eastwood. A very interesting film, and an unusual one, in some respects… but the core, self-reflexive idea hasn’t worked out well at all. (*½)