It’s important to begin this review by acknowledging the incredible heroism displayed and embodied by Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler. What they did on August 21, 2015, thwarting a terrorist attach on a French passenger train, is the sort of stuff that restores and augments faith in humanity. It’s a story that deserves to be told. When Clint Eastwood decided to cast the three Americans as themselves in the film, it set a tone of recognition, but also of realism that was, likely, acted upon to such a degree that it may hurt the movie going experience for some viewers.
Is it an experiment to cast non-actors in a major Hollywood production? Yes. Is it unprecedented? No. However, in addressing an incident like this, it’s only possible for a couple of reasons: first, the event occurred less than 3 years ago, meaning that the stars haven’t aged or changed very much, so it’s plausible casting. And second, no one was fatally injured during the attack. Because it’s a triumph of heroism — an averted tragedy rather than a tragedy — the filmmakers were able to turn it into a fictional portrayal nearly immediately, thus allowing those who were there to play themselves. In this sense, The 15:17 to Paris is a film unto itself.
Whatever faults are leveled at the movie have little to do with the heroes whose life stories it’s based on.