The right track

Facing terror on train to Paris

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

The 15:17 to Paris is a brisk account of the recent incident in which three young American men foiled a heavily armed terrorist’s attack on the passengers of a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. The three Americans are longtime pals from the Sacramento area and they have been cast as themselves in Clint Eastwood’s 94-minute action drama based on the book they wrote in the aftermath.

Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler have been pals since their days as schoolboy troublemakers. As kids, Spencer and Skarlatos were rambunctious misfits bonding over playing soldier and wearing camo to class at the Christian school to which they’ve both been sent. Sadler, who is black, is a witty and articulate charmer who thrives on the company of the other two.

Suspense over the terrorist attack starts building very early on, but most of the film is devoted to sketching in the threesome’s life stories and the choices that lead them to be on that particular train on that particular day. Stone is an Air Force man on leave, Skarlatos is on leave from the Oregon Army National Guard and Sadler is a college student on summer break. The three of them have been enjoying themselves on an improvised European tour scheduled to coincide with Stone’s summer leave from his deployment in Germany.

The onscreen results are consistently engaging without ever seeming to be really extraordinary. The near-minimalist efficiency of Eastwood’s direction (and of Dorothy Blyskal’s screenplay/adaptation) generates an overall impression of mildly conventional earnestness. It’s energetic and matter-of-fact, but with an occasional drift toward glibness and superficiality.

In a way, The 15:17 to Paris comes across as a half-finished sketch for a much bigger story than it’s able to tell. For now, though, I’m inclined to give it credit for its reluctance to inflate its central anecdote and for its willingness to rest easy with its own paradoxes. It is, after all, a story whose climax matches the throttling of a terrorist with a hands-on effort to keep one of his victims from bleeding to death.

Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler seem credibly at ease in their respective roles, with Eastwood’s direction presumably deserving some of the credit. The professionals in the cast (Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer as frantic single moms; Thomas Lennon, P.J. Byrne and Tony Hale as disapproving school personnel) get little opportunity for anything more than mild caricature.