Eastwood's film on train heroes fails to impress

Warner Bros

Warner Bros

The one who wants to be a palaeontologist (or a Spielbergean purveyor of blockbuster thrills) slumbers under Jurassic Park posters. Eastwood is in good control staging the miraculous misfiring of El-Khazzani's Luger pistol and AK-47 rifle that allowed Spencer to use his military training to overpower him. The 2006 diptych Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima was near flawless, while the more recent American Sniper faced charges of simplifying a complex situation, and more generally of jingoism.

A lawyer representing a man accused of a foiled French terror attack has spoken out against a film by Clint Eastwood depicting the incident.

But the trio is also hoping it opens other doors. This is one more reason to avoid the movie.

And neither does The 15:17 to Paris, but this time, the cultural (and political) climate has changed.

Admittedly, the elevator pitch for 15:17 smacks of a certain tackiness.

By the time we get to the three stars as adults, with each man playing himself, the god very bad script by Dorothy Blyskal gives them lines that not even seasoned actors could pull off, all to push this story that these men, who did a heroic deed in the face of real danger, were raised to do this.

The first half of the film which focuses on the heroes when they were kids and how they become lifelong friends is a little uneven and feels more like an actual movie than the docu-drama the film later becomes.

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As a gimmick, it's not without precedent.

In 1955, Congressional Medal of Honor victor Audie Murphy, America's most decorated World War II soldier, played himself in a Technicolor and Cinemascope version of his wartime exploits, "To Hell and Back", which became a major hit.

Bradley Cooper (as Chris Kyle): "Drop it". The conceit itself is not exactly revolutionary. The fight choreography in the slender train's aisle feels appropriately clumsy, bloody and adrenaline-mad, an example of how saving the day can be a real mess. Where American Sniper took flack in some quarters for its fast-and-loose interpretation of the USA military's deadliest sharpshooter, 15:17 responds by casting the actual guys.

If there's anyone who can break down an entire crowd of movie-goers into a puddle of tears, it's Clint Eastwood. The film wobbles between flashbacks and flash-forwards, and has no interest in giving us a sense of what the guys were, and are, really like, or how they click together as friends.

This preoccupation with simulation was also apparent in Sully, in which Hanks's real-world airline pilot Sully Sullenberger must defend the legitimacy of his professional choices against competing evidence compiled by computer run-throughs reenacting those choices. And pro actors are more compelling than real people can ever be. Watching three regular guys - three lifelong buddies - retrace their steps through Germany, Rome, Venice, and Amsterdam is nearly tolerable because these are really nice guys. So they decided that the best way to counter that is by making Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler literally verbalise every thought that crosses their minds. "We were in the gym and Spencer and I were kinda, you know, smack talking each other about how many dips we could do, and so Clint overhears it and he comes up and goes, 'Oh yeah?" Fortunately, Eastwood is a master director of this stuff and the re-creations of the events and attack are meticulous.

This may all seem awfully grand. It's the last thing he wanted, I'm sure, but Eastwood's latest ends up feeling like a stunt. But The 15:17 To Paris thinks through issues of heroism and history with remarkable intelligence and clarity. There are some pro actors along for the journey including Jenna Fisher, Judy Greer, Thomas Lennon and Tony Hale in those early flashback scenes, but they are upstaged by the first-timers.

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