Clint Eastwood’s latest film, “The 15:17 to Paris,” will not appeal to everyone. Because of the true story it portrays, the film will certainly grab the attention of single mothers with strong-willed sons (especially those in the military), people who have strong beliefs about fate and destiny, people who like “true hero films” and members of the armed forces. However, this film will not appeal to fans of “artsy,” fictional pieces. If you enjoyed “The Shape of Water” or “Lady Bird,” but true story dramas aren’t your cup of tea, then don’t waste your time.
I felt inspired by the true story this film brings to life and the messages of friendship and bravery that it highlights. While some people may find this film to be boring with bad acting and an unnecessary plot, I was very moved to see these three ordinary guys have the courage to make a split-second decision, which saved hundreds of lives. Not only did the three men portray themselves in the film, but so did many of the survivors of the attack. Eastwood recreated the event as authentically as possible, something that today most Hollywood films totally lack.
The film recreates (to a tee) the attempted 2015 Thalys train attack in which a lone Islamic State group gunman, armed with an AKM assault rifle and 270 rounds of ammunition, attempted a mass shooting on the 15:17 train from Amsterdam to Paris. The terrorist was subdued by three American childhood friends, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, two of whom are members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
While the casting is a fascinating artistic choice by director Clint Eastwood – who better to portray these guys then themselves? – the acting isn’t great. For people who have never acted before, these three guys perform decently, but it is still painfully obvious that they are acting. They over-deliver on some lines and make the interactions seem forced, while in other scenes – particularly the nightclub scene in Amsterdam – it’s natural and smooth. This wasn’t something I minded because going into the film I assumed (since they’re not actors, duh) that their acting wouldn’t be great.
“Every second, you feel yourself on edge, wondering who’ll get the upper hand even though you already know the ending.”
The film follows these three young men from the dawn of their friendship in middle school, to the start of their careers in the military, to their vacation in Europe, finally concluding with the attempted attack on the train. The writing is average, and the script is laden with glaring foreshadowing. Multiple times, Stone, the friend in the Air Force, repeatedly talks about the friends’ lives heading for a “greater purpose” (gee, I wonder what that could be?). At times you feel like you’re watching an independent, low-budget documentary about three close friends partying it up in Europe, which allows for some heartwarming scenes.
But Eastwood’s directing is truly incredible. The battle on the train between these three men and the terrorist is riveting. You can feel the claustrophobia as Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler wrestle with the gunman in the close quarters of their first class cabin, dodging the attacker’s guns and knives while trying to subdue him. Every second, you feel yourself on edge, wondering who’ll get the upper hand even though you already know the ending. That’s the sign of a true hero film.
This film reminds the viewer that, despite the turmoil of the modern world, there are still real, humble and ordinary heroes out there. Eastwood’s decision to honor these young men’s story, and have them play themselves, was impactful. No one could bring to life the incredibly high stakes of the moment better than the heroes who lived it. This film was made for them and for those moved by what they did.