I’m here to report what seems like a serious inaccuracy in the advertising of The 15:17 to Paris. According to the film’s poster, it was directed by Clint Eastwood, but I’m pretty sure the drama I watched was made by Tommy Wiseau—the eccentric artist behind the “so bad it’s good,” cult-classic movie The Room. How else to explain the halting dialogue, the way entire scenes have absolutely no bearing on the larger plot, and the ensemble of actors who have never been in a motion picture before? Watching The 15:17 to Paris summoned the kind of strange, unsettled feeling that only a true master like Wiseau can usually conjure.
But The 15:17 to Paris is indeed Eastwood’s 36th film, the latest and oddest entry in a nearly 50-year directing career that has produced some incredible artistic twists and turns. In the last decade or so, he’s become fascinated with rendering true-life heroism with the help of Hollywood’s biggest stars—casting Tom Hanks as a legendary pilot in Sully, Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Invictus, and Bradley Cooper as the famed marksman Chris Kyle in American Sniper.
With The 15:17 to Paris, Eastwood is trying something different. This is a film about a real act of bravery, in which three Americans (two of them members of the military) tackled and subdued a gunman on a train going from Amsterdam to Paris in August 2015. And rather than cast some strapping young actors from the latest Marvel movie, Eastwood turned to the men themselves—Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos—to play, well, themselves. Hollywood is always on the lookout for undiscovered talent, but this is daring stuff, a choice more typical of Jean Rouch than the man who directed Million Dollar Baby. And I wish it had worked.