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Movie Review: 'The 15:17 To Paris'

In August of 2015, a gunman attacked a train from Amsterdam to Paris. After short skirmishes with some passengers, his rifle jammed, and three Americans on the train overwhelmed the man and subdued him with the help of a couple of other passengers.

Because everything needs a movie, this event has turned into The 15:17 To Paris, directed by Clint Eastwood, and with the audacious casting of the three actual Americans who were involved in the incident playing themselves.

Eastwood and the writer, Dorothy Blyskal, fill the time before the train attack by first showing us the three men meeting as children, then as two of them join the armed forces, and then as all three of them take their fated trip to Europe. Many of these scenes exist to give us the pieces that are supposed to add up to show us what made these men capable of such heroism on that train, but they also seem so loosely directed that it often feels like we’re just wandering around waiting for Eastwood to yell “Cut!”

And oh, what I would give to see this movie’s screenplay. Because it’s clear that either these three untrained actors were asked to improvise much of their dialogue, or they were given words to say that are so aggressively dull they had no chance to succeed. They talk like real people, but it turns out that real people say very boring things to each other most of the time. And whatever else this is, it’s still a movie, and we need to have some reason to want to continue to listen beyond just biding our time until we get to the climax.  

When we finally do get there, the scene is intense and gripping, though it feels strangely ghoulish to watch the three recreate the actual violence and horror of those moments on the train. Still, it’s not remotely worth the listlessness of the rest of the film. And the fault lies entirely with the filmmakers, who fail to give these men a movie worthy of their extraordinary actions.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.