The 15:17 to Paris

 

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An act of heroism that transformed the lives of three young Americans.

 
15_17 to Paris

Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler

 

Over the past decade Clint Eastwood has continued to direct regularly and, if some of these films have been disappointments, rather more have been successes. For a man who became an octogenarian almost eight years ago it is a remarkable record. Yet it is natural that fears should arise that his urge to film and his sheer stamina could cause him to go on when he is no longer fit for the job. The good news about this new film of his is that technically his work shows no decline; the bad news is that one has to question his belief that the story of Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler is well suited to becoming a feature film.

 

These three were the Americans who took a leading role in overcoming a terrorist in August 2015: that was when the Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani armed with an assault rifle and substantial ammunition threatened the passengers on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris. Bringing him down was an action which won medals for all three including the L├ęgion d'honneur.

 

The 15:17 to Paris follows on from American Sniper (2014) and Sully (2016) and therefore fits in with Eastwood's desire to celebrate the courage of American heroes without succumbing to jingoistic glorification of the military. But the action on the train, admirable as it was, took but a short time and to build a full-length film around it is problematic. Screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal drawing on a book on the subject goes back to the childhood friendship of the three Americans from Sacramento including their rebellious response after suffering bullying at school. She then jumps forward in time to show them joining the military, but none of this yields very much dramatic interest - which is doubtless why Eastwood inserts one or two brief scenes which early on flash forward to the train incident. It was when all three were in their mid-twenties that they made an agreement to meet in Europe and it was that which would eventually lead to them boarding the 15:17 train. Just ahead of that fateful moment Eastwood, needing to fill out the material to reach even the modest length of 94 minutes, incorporates footage from the days before the key journey. He shows visits to Rome, Berlin, Venice and Amsterdam - but once again nothing of note happens in these scenes.

 

When one learnt that the three Americans had signed up to play themselves in this film, it sounded like a risk that could easily spell disaster. In the event it doesn't since they get by, but established actors could have brought more to the roles, in which case the screenplay might have ventured into more detailed characterisations. The idea that is offered up - one linked to the fact that all three are Christians - is that God had something coming up for them that would be special. This may provide a theme of a kind but it would have taken a Bresson to make it weighty. However, if you are drawn to this true story and to seeing the actual individuals concerned, then Eastwood's film will serve.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, Lillian Solange Beaudoin, Jaleel White, Bryce Gheisar, Ray Corasani, Thomas Lennon, Mark Moogalian, Vernon Dobtcheff.

 

Dir Clint Eastwood, Pro Clint Eastwood, Jessica Meier, Tim Moore and Kristina Rivera, Screenplay Dorothy Blyskal,  from the book by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Jeffrey E, Stern, Ph Tom Stern, Pro Des Kevin Ishioka, Ed Blu Murray, Music Christian Jacob, Costumes Deborah Hooper.

 

Malpaso Productions/Village Roadshow Pictures/Warner Bros-Warner Bros.
94 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 9 February 2018. Cert. 15.