One of the characters in “The 15:17 to Paris” sports a T-shirt with the image of the movie’s director on it. If this were any other director, the detail might seem just a bit arrogant.
But we’re talking about Clint Eastwood here, whose movie stardom is well past the half-century mark. It would be unrealistic if the character didn’t wear a “Pale Rider” shirt.
For Eastwood, “The 15:17” is both characteristic and experimental. His 36th film as director is striking for the ways it refuses to conform to the model of a big Hollywood movie.
For one thing, it has no stars. The lead roles are played by the men whose real-life story is being depicted: three Americans who helped stop a gun-toting maniac on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Aug. 21, 2015.
It’s an amazing tale of courage under fire, but the actual incident doesn’t last very long. To fill out a 94-minute feature, we also watch scenes depiction the trio’s childhood friendship and the days leading up to the attack.
Two of the guys, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, had been serving in the U.S. military, in Portugal and Afghanistan, respectively. They decided to take a European vacation during leave, joined by their childhood pal Anthony Sadler, who was in college in their hometown of Sacramento, California.
The film has a couple of flash-forwards to remind us of the train attack, but otherwise it dawdles along: We watch three amiable bros getting their first taste of Europe, doing tourist things and vaguely wondering what their lives are leading up to. I wondered whether Eastwood saw Richard Linklater’s non-story-driven “Boyhood” and got a yen to make a movie like that.
Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler are likable, even if they’re not very good actors. Then again, some of the dialogue by screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal is so awkward, it could defeat Daniel Day-Lewis.
You can see why Eastwood decided to take the unorthodox move of casting them as themselves — it emphasizes the idea that these were three regular people who simply stepped up at a terrifying moment. Nothing gets whitewashed by movie-star glamour.
This fits with Eastwood’s own no-frills style of moviemaking (of which “Sully” was an excellent recent example, another story of regular-guy heroism). But when the attack does eventually come, it’s thrillingly staged.
“The 15:17” is an odd movie. Some of it is downright amateurish, including scenes with actual professional actors (Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer play parents of two of the guys). But it has just enough offhand appeal to make it a memorably different kind of docudrama.
“The 15:17 to Paris” (2½ stars)
Director Clint Eastwood casts three real-life heroes as themselves, with mixed but appealing results. Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler re-create their experiences stopping a gunman’s attack on a Paris-bound train in 2015, as well as the carefree European vacation leading up to it. An odd kind of docu-drama, but it fits the theme of regular people stepping up in terrifying circumstances.
Rating: PG-13, for violence
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall