Three Americans discover a terrorist plot aboard a train while in France.
‘The 15:17 to Paris’ is an odd film in many ways and an unusual experiment for director Clint Eastwood to undertake in his 87th year. It’s a film that attempts to tell the story of the thwarted 2015 Thalys train attack of the title by focusing on the people who managed to prevent the attack, undoubtedly saving many lives in the process. What makes the film experimental is Eastwood’s decision to cast the three men involved (Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos) as themselves and using the incident as a touchstone to essentially tell the story of their lives. If you’ve ever wanted to see a biopic about ordinary people living ordinary lives then this is it, and particularly in the early stages I struggled to understand the point of this exercise, but ‘The 15:17 to Paris’ improves significantly as we head closer to the attack.
It helps that Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos are reasonably competent as actors (I don’t think I’d have known Stone wasn’t an actor if I’d gone into this blind), and the fact they are friends in real life gives the scenes between them natural chemistry with banter that doesn’t feel scripted for the most part. The early parts of the film focusing on their childhood don’t really land, but when they get together on a trip around Europe things start to come together and I really enjoyed the film from this point onwards. Some of the dialogue does feel a little cute with the foreshadowing as Eastwood tries to tie their experiences leading up to the attack into something more thematically resonant for cinematic purposes, but I mostly bought it because I found the ‘characters’ easy to like. When we come to the attack itself the action is tense and frenetic and I thought the addition of a speech from François Hollande worked well.
‘The 15:17 to Paris’ continues Eastwood’s recent streak of focusing on unsung heroism from his perspective after ‘Sully’ and ‘American Sniper’ (I’m not as keen on ‘American Sniper’ or the character it depicts), and whilst the execution is sometimes clumsy, I thought this was a well-intentioned and mostly enjoyable piece of cinema, and certainly much better than the majority of reviews would suggest.
Directed By: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Alex Skarlatos, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Ray Corasani, Tony Hale and Thomas Lennon