Genre: Drama/ Action
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, Judy Greer, Jenna Fisher
Runtime: 1 hr 34 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Warner Bros
Opening Day: 8 February 2018
Synopsis: From Clint Eastwood comes The 15:17 to Paris, which tells the real-life story of three men whose brave act turned them into heroes during a highspeed railway ride. In the early evening of August 21, 2015, the world watched in stunned silence as the media reported a thwarted terrorist attack on Thalys train #9364 bound for Paris- an attempt prevented by three courageous young Americans traveling through Europe. The film follows the course of the friends lives, from the struggles of childhood through finding their footing in life, to the series of unlikely events leading up to the attack. Throughout the harrowing ordeal, their friendship never wavers, making it their greatest weapon and allowing them to save the lives of the more than 500 passengers on board.
On August 21, 2015, Ayoub El Khazzani boarded the titular train service armed with a knife, a pistol, an assault rifle and nearly 300 rounds of ammunition. His attack was thankfully thwarted by a couple of brave passengers – including three American tourists: Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone – who wrestled, disarmed and subdued him before he managed to more than critically injure an American-born Frenchman on board.
After ‘American Sniper’ and ‘Sully’, you can see why director Clint Eastwood was drawn to their tale of real-life heroism; but unlike those earlier two films, his latest will leave you less in awe than aloof, owning to a leisurely narrative that doesn’t quite know what it wants to do aside from re-enacting those tense few minutes. Besides occasional cutaways to remind us just where it is all leading up to, the first hour is littered with random snippets of their lives together – beginning with their days in a Christian middle school in Sacromento where they first met each other, to Spencer’s pursuit of his dream to be an Air Force para-rescueman, to Alek’s tour as a National Guardsman in Afghanistan, and last but not least to their European vacation where they will make the last-minute decision to hop on that fateful train to Paris.
Oh yes, it is as dull as it sounds. Their pre-adolescent days are meant to illustrate how young Spencer and Alek bonded over their love for camo-wear and war games, while demonstrating their mothers (played by Judy Greer and Jenna Fisher) battling the headmaster’s stigmatisation of single mothers. Spencer’s journey through Air Force school shows his determination when he sets his mind to something, but also his subsequent disappointment when he fails to qualify due to eyesight issues. Alek’s brief stint in Afghanistan reveals his frustration at being essentially a ‘mall cop’. But worst of all, their days in Rome, Venice, Berlin and Amsterdam prior to that pivotal train ride are no more than a glorified travelogue, what with them cruising down Venice’s waterways or biking in Germany or clubbing in Berlin.
It isn’t difficult to guess what Eastwood is trying to accomplish – by showing Spencer, Alak and Anthony going about their daily lives with absolute verisimilitude, we are supposed to better appreciate how they are simply just three ordinary guys who stepped up with valour when the occasion demanded it. Yet these curated episodes from their respective lives don’t build up to anything meaningful, substantial or simply engaging in first-time writer Dorothy Blyskal’s script, which ultimately fails to acquaint us adequately with these characters, their personalities and motivations, and/or convince us that their lives thus far are indeed “catapulting them towards some higher purpose” as Spencer claims.
If much of the first two acts comes off as mere filler, then the attack itself is nothing less than the highlight of the whole movie. Alas even then, Eastwood fails to deliver a genuinely nail-biting finale worthy of the wait – that’s partly because the actual physical struggle itself doesn’t last very long, and partly because little attention is paid to the other characters on board who also played significant parts in detaining the terrorist, including the aforementioned Frenchman Mark Moogalian. It is telling how much of the movie actually consists of that crucial event when we spend a good five minutes after the fact just watching then-French President Francois Hollande presenting them with the Legion of Honour, which Eastwood depicts using a mix of real and recreated footage. By the time the movie ends, you’ll be left thinking just how a few minutes of heroism does not a feature-length film make.
Similarly, it doesn’t mean that these real-life individuals are the best people to play their onscreen personas. Much has been said about Eastwood’s decision to cast Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler as themselves in a bid for non-professional naturalism, but the outcome is less awkward than authentic. With no disrespect to these three men, they come off stiff and wooden reciting Blyskal’s lines, leaving one to wonder if they would have been better served given the liberty to improvise. Ironically, Eastwood’s minimalist directing – which works best when his actors deserve the space to flesh out their characters – makes their performances look even more raw and unpolished, so much so that even their interactions sound forced.
In the end, ‘The 15:17 to Paris’ is a frustrating misfire from an auteur whose artistic choices here seem utterly misguided. In recreating the events of his characters’ lives before the main event, Eastwood seems to have rolled a Christian drama, a military drama and a holiday travelogue into one, but without proper character development to hold the disparate parts together, the result is pure tedium. Ditto his casting of three non-actors as their real-life selves, whose sheer inexperience in front of the camera negates whatever realism they might have brought with them. Don’t get us wrong – we’re not dissing or dismissing the courage that these men have displayed, but this slack, inert and enervating drama is hardly the tribute that they deserve.
(There's Christianity, military and parties thrown in to turn a few minutes of heroism into a feature-length movie - and the result is as terrible as that hodgepodge sounds)
Review by Gabriel Chong