Clint Eastwood puts the friendship of three real-life heroes front and center in his latest thriller, “The 15:17 to Paris,”
One of the few constants in Hollywood is Clint Eastwood. From ‘Spaghetti Westerns” to lone-rebels to romances, Mr. Eastwood has been acting, producing and directing films for a lot longer than I’ve been alive. And, at age 87, Mr. Eastwood is still delivering entertaining stories to audiences.
His latest film, “The 15:17 to Paris” is the story of the friendship behind three real-life heroes who stop a terrorist incident on a train between Amsterdam and Paris. The incident made international news in August of 2015 as a 25-year-old Moroccan man, Ayoub El Khazzani opened fire on the other passengers. He was armed with AKM assault rifle with nine magazines and a total of 270 rounds of ammunition. Among the passengers were three friends, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone. Mr. Skarlatos was an Oregon Amy National Guard Specialist and Mr. Stone, a US Air Force Airman first class. One passenger, Mark Moogalian was injured in the attack.
Mr. Eastwood chose to take this story head-on with very little embellishment on the facts by having Mr. Stone, Mr. Sadler and Mr. Skarlatos play themselves in the film. IN keeping with his attention to detail, the production recreated the incident on a Thalys carriage, the same as was involved in the incident.
The script from first-time writer Dorothy Blyskal recounts the events with intimate detail. Dramatic liberties were taken as the story regresses into the childhoods of the three subjects. The story focused on the mental state of Spencer (William Jennings), the tough exterior of Alek (Bryce Gheisar) and Anthony’s (Paul-Mikel Williams) antics as teenagers. Ms. Blyskal interweaves the first third of the film in between the young kids struggles through school and the events leading up to the modern-day attack.
Eventually the story works its way fully into the modern-day. The second act shows Spencer’s struggles to commit to something and eventually his various training assignments in the Air Force. The various sequences build to show his resolve to do good in the world.
The buildup during the modern day sequences unfortunately felt labored. Instead of an action-thriller, we were handed a triptych through Europe. Where the highlights were the historic sites that Anthony and Spencer visited, and a “selfie-stick” becomes the in-joke. Alek, who was involved in a relationship took a trip to Germany. We do get a moment of levity as a tour guide points out that American texts are incorrect about the circumstances surrounding Hitler’s death.
Eventually, Alek catches up with Anthony and Spencer as they try to figure out a way to avoid Paris. Spencer, in a moment of “preordained destiny,” pushes the trio to head to Paris. Alek and Anthony relent and after a detour to Amsterdam, they board the train bound for Paris and towards history.
The film runs a lean 94-minutes. Because of its labored narrative structure, the film felt much longer and the actual centerpiece of the film felt anti-climactic. Credit is due to Mr. Stone, Mr. Sadler and Mr. Skarlatos for being the subjects in their own story. Ms. Blyskal’s script is based on their novel, The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers that they co-wrote with Jeffrey E. Stern.
Ultimately, their story couldn’t really fill an extended narrative without embellishment.
What drew me towards their story is the fact that Mr. Eastwood didn’t gloss over the details or their friendship. In an era where it takes upwards of 24 months for a film to get delivered to audiences, Mr. Eastwood delivered this film in less than 10 months. What appealed to me even more is his continued commitment to a feeling of service, of doing good for others without trying to be a hero.
The theme of friendship, which these three have in spades, has also permeated Mr. Eastwood’s recent films. Mr. Eastwood’s focus in this film as well as “Sully,” a more fictionalized tale of a true life hero really brings home his esprit de corps. And that’s an example we can all benefit from.
“The 15:17 to Paris” has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA.