This 2018 American biographical thriller, produced and directed by Clint Eastwood and based on the autobiography ‘The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers’ by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos; stars Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos as themselves alongside Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer and Ray Corasan.
In the late summer of 2015, three American friends, Alek Skarlatos (himself), Anthony Sadler (himself) and Spencer Stone (himself), bound by a lifetime of friendship, are taking a European holiday. Stone serves in the US Air Force, Sadler is a writer and Skarlatos serves in the US Army.
Travelling across Europe, the friends share the sights and sounds of the continent whilst remembering how their paths crossed in school and how they all wanted to serve their country in very different ways growing up.
Boarding the 15:17 train from Amsterdam to Paris, the friends are soon caught up in what appears to be a terror attack. Gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani (Corasan) is ready to bring terror to Europe, and Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos will face a life-changing three minutes as the first bullet is fired on the train…
Clint Eastwood. American actor, producer, director, musician and all-around American icon. I love the man, and I love 99% of his work. He’s had a few blips along the way across a 60+ career in front of and behind the camera, but that’s nothing if not normal. Recently he’s become a director who takes ordinary people facing extraordinary true events often lost in the media and tells their story to show how real heroes act without capes, super-powers or blockbuster budgets.
He did it with ‘Changeling’. He did it with ‘J.Edgar’. He did it with ‘American Sniper’ and most recently with ‘Sully’. Clint is the director who makes the ordinary extraordinary.
‘The 15:17 To Paris’ is sadly in the 1% of his work I do not like, and not because of his tight, crisp direction but because of the thin source material, the thin story and the personal love-letter to our three ordinary heroes that would have been better left to a book rather than the big screen.
It just does not work.
From casting the actual three young men involved in thwarting the terror attack on the Amsterdam to Paris train in August 2015, Eastwood took a huge gamble that was the first step in spreading word of mouth. Sadly, as movies are made to entertain and engross, it’s hard to be entertained and engrossed by three people who can’t act, fail to replicate raw emotion when they have to repeat it for a director and simply aren’t the sort of people you front a movie with. Sure, have them tail-end the story with a short interview as many true biopics do today, but don’t have them lead.
It’s clear to say that while their bravery is second-to-none, seeing Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos on a journey that follows their younger selves through school, their older selves into pursuing their individual careers and then finally off on a European holiday isn’t the most exciting, engaging or gripping 80mins of cinema you’ll see this year. There’s no Matt Damon, Bradley Cooper or Tom Hanks to help you here.
Marketed as an action film, it’s more of a drama. In fact, we only have about 5 minutes of action towards the end for the moment the whole film is based around; the resolution of the terror attack on the 15:17 to Paris. There is no back-story offered on the terrorist motivations, no sense of danger. There awful foreshadowing from the trinity about “what they are destined to become”, so cue a painful script. There is no action. It’s not an action film, yet when the action DOES kick in, it’s over far too quickly and arrives at a point when you’ve probably either dozed off or given up caring.
Eastwood can do tense brutal reality near perfectly as he is an old-fashioned film-maker and one of the last of his treasured generation. No frills, no nonsense. He directs the attack with a gripping brutality and tight camera work and a diegetic atmosphere. And then it’s over. There’s little conclusion or dealing with the aftermath because the film has used up its short run-time focusing on school days, army days and eating ice-cream and partying in nightclub days. All the things we aren’t really here to witness as a spare part, because it offers us nothing as a viewer to invest in or take away.
What Eastwood as a director does well is understand the subject matter and explore the moments the media doesn’t capture. With ‘Sully’ and ‘Changeling’ he took a moment the world saw but spent the rest of the film exploring the humanity and real story behind it all, expanding what we know to leave us with a greater understanding. With ‘15:17’ he ends where his usual film would begin; we spend so much of the film involved with things we are forced to try and invest in and enjoy, but it’s just not what we are here to see. While the film looks good thanks to his old-school film-making and Europe gleams as a continent, it’s not a travel guide we are watching.
I wish I could like this more, but if this wasn’t a Clint Eastwood film I wouldn’t have gone to see it, which is a shame in a way because while this terror attack was foiled, it seems only disasters that come to fruition are ones that attract audiences to watch and absorb. ‘The 15:17 To Paris’ may be a brave film to make with brave casting choices, but it’s not going to make shock-waves or resonate with many people as either a biopic or an engaging piece of cinema.
Sorry Clint, but you didn’t go ahead and make my day.