As we all know, October is the month when we usually ignore everything but the horror genre here at the Shattered Lens. However, I’m going to briefly interrupt our horrorthon to say a few words about The 15:17 to Paris.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, The 15:17 to Paris is a film about the 2015 Thalys train attack. This was when a terrorist named Ayoub El Khazzani opened fire on a train that was heading from Amsterdam to Paris. He wounded three passengers and probably would have killed countless more (there were over 500 people on the train) if he had not been subdued by three American friends, one British passenger, and a French train driver. The 15:17 to Paris focuses on the three Americans, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alex Skarlatos.
When the film was released on February 9th, it got middling reviews and was considered to be a box office disappointment. Myself, I saw it the first week of March, just a few days before Jeff and I left for a two-week stay in the UK. I meant to review it when we returned to America but I just never got around to it. However, about a week ago the film made its cable debut and seeing as how Clint Eastwood has a second film coming out this year that might be the Oscar contender that his first film probably won’t be, I figured now is as good a time as any to defend The 15:17 To Paris.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The 15:17 to Paris is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the film’s first line of dialogue — in which Anthony Sadler, in voice over, says that he knows we’re probably wondering why “a brother like me” is hanging out with two white guys — made me cringe so hard that I was worried I might sink into my seat and never be able to escape. Sadler, Spencer Stone, and Alex Skarlatos all play themselves in the movie and none of them comes across as being a natural actor. They may be heroes but they aren’t movie stars.
And yet, the fact that none of them are stars is also the film’s greatest strength. Throughout the film, Eastwood emphasizes how totally and completely average Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone are. None of them really get the type of “hero shots” that one normally expects to see in a film like this. Instead, Eastwood continually reminds us that they’re just three friends who happened to be on the train when the shooting started. They put their own lives at risk to take the shooter down and they also provided first aid to a man who had been shot. Whether they have movie star charisma or not, they still saved countless lives. The film’s point is that you don’t have to be Chris Pratt or Chris Evans to be a hero. You can just be Chris from across the street. You just have to be someone willing to do the right thing at the right time. It’s a sincere and heartfelt message and it’s one that comes across specifically because Eastwood cast three nonprofessionals.
The film starts with a lengthy sequence that depicts the childhoods of the three lifelong friends. It’s kind of a strange sequence, largely because almost all of the supporting roles are filled by talented actors who are best known for their comedic work on television. Thomas Lennon plays a high school principal while Tony Hale shows up as a coach. Even Jaleel White (!) has a role as a teacher who gives the boys advice on self-defense. When the childhood scenes work, it’s largely due to the performances of Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer, who plays the mothers of Alex and Spencer. But whenever Fischer and Greer aren’t around, the childhood scenes are a bit too slow and awkward.
However, once Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone are on that train, the film definitely picks up. Whatever awkwardness that the three nonprofessionals may have exhibited earlier in the movie disappears as they spring to action and they recreate their responses to the attack on the train. It’s here that Eastwood’s no-nonsense approach to storytelling definitely pays off, as he recreates the train attack without any of the showy tricks that you might expect from other directors. Instead, Eastwood allows things to play-out naturally. Like the passengers on that train, all we can do is watched as the three men rush the gunman.
The 15:17 to Paris may not be one of Eastwood’s best films but it’s hardly the disaster that it was made out to be. Instead, it’s a sincere and unapologetically old-fashioned celebration of heroism and doing the right thing.