REVIEW: The 15:17 To Paris

  • Based on the autobiography The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers. 
  • Clint Eastwood directs new film The 15:17 To Paris. 

A good drama always keeps me captivated; sitting at the edge of my seat, heart pounding and desperate to find out what happens, especially those based on a true story, and when you see ‘directed by Clint Eastwood’ your expectations grow even higher. However, The 15:17 to Paris was not at all filled with the drama and thrill that I had anticipated.

The 15:17 to Paris follows the lives of three American childhood friends; Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone, who on 21 August 2015 heroically took it upon themselves to prevent a terrorist attack on a train from Amsterdam to Paris at the end of their European inter-railing journey. Given that the film is based around one brief moment, I wondered how Eastwood and writer Dorothy Blyskal were going to fill the remaining 1 hour of film time. The answer; a load of irrelevant childhood scenes, which gave us no indication of a strong friendship bond between the three from their youth; a few scenes from their inter-rail trip which had no relevance to the story, including a trip to a gelato shop in Venice and a club scene in Amsterdam that went on way longer than needed.

One thing I was intrigued by was Eastwood casting Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone to play themselves in the film. Providing he had no acting experience, Stone seemed to fit right into Hollywood, by giving us a mostly relaxed and easy performance and this was portrayed in the number of scenes and lines he had been given. Throughout the film you could see the real-life bond the three had – which I assume Eastwood had hoped for when casting – however, I could see the shyness and uncomfortableness within Sadler and Skarlatos, as a few of their lines – Sadler’s in particular – came across awkward and misplaced.

Stone recites the prayer of St. Francis, once when he was a child and later after the attack: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.” It was disappointing that Eastwood did not give this prayer more significance throughout the film. During his trip, Stone ponders to Sadler: “Do you ever feel life is pushing us towards something, some greater purpose?” and when the others are considering skipping Paris, Stone is determined to get on that train, as if he always knew something important was going to happen.

The film slightly picked up close to the end when we finally reached the train scene and the terrorist attack. Eastwood’s direction was powerful and smooth as he gave us the perfect shots and angles at the right time. The action delivered between the three men and the terrorist was impressive and in the few minutes of action, I forgot that all three men were amateurs.

Overall, the film failed to meet the expectations of a drama. When presented, the idea seemed perfect as the drama showing a real-life, remarkable act of heroism could be heightened and given lots of passion. Perhaps if Eastwood had cast professional actors who could deliver those lines with such emotion and empowerment, then maybe The 15:17 to Paris wouldn’t be as mundane and anti-climactic.