The 15:17 To Paris review: Clint Eastwood directs this true account of events from 2015, starring the real-life heroes themselves, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos.

The 15:17 To Paris review by Paul Heath.

The 15:17 To Paris review
The 15:17 To Paris review

Clint Eastwood’s astonishing new film is one based on a true story from 2015, about a trio of friends who stop an armed terrorist reeking havoc on a train from Amsterdam to Paris. I use the word astonishing not as a positive for the film in terms of cinematic quality, but astonishing as to the decisions that have been made in bringing this undoubtedly heroic story to the screen.

The film opens by introducing the three main characters of Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos who are reunited after going their separate ways in life for a trip around Europe taking in the key cities over several weeks. When they board the 15:17 train to Paris of the title, little did they know that their lives would be changed forever as a result. Part of the way into the journey, the train is hijacked by Ayoub El-Khazzani, a terrorist armed with what would later be discovered to be over 300 rounds of ammunition. The film tells the story of the train journey, while also flashing back to the young boys’ upbringing in Sacramento, California, notably Stone and Sadler, both of whom have a deep connection as friends, but also share the fact they are both being raised by single mothers (played by Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer).

The true story is adapted from the boon ‘The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers’ by Spencer Stone, Anthony Skarlatos and Anthony Stadler, our undisputed heroes at the centre of the story, as well as Jeffrey E. Stern. Translated to the screen by screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal, the film unfortunately fails on so many levels.

Rather than going for the straight narrative structure, the filmmakers intersperse sequences from the incident on the train with what can only be described as completely dull back story involving Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos, the three of them playing themselves throughout, bar a fifteen-minute sequence we see at the start with them at a much younger age.

The script is sprinkled with sequences early on that have obviously been included to show us the various skills and traits that the three have gained in their earlier lives which are used in the confrontation later. This is particularly true for Stone, who we spend most of our time with in the early sections, who we see questioning first aid techniques, thinking outside the box when his army base potentially comes under threat, and excelling in Jiu-Jitsu. The reason for their inclusion is obvious, and while while some exposition and back story is need for viewer empathy for scenes that are to come, it’s so mind-numbingly dull that it’s easy for the mind to wander as the drama plays out before you.

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Things eventually lead to the trip to Europe – nearly an hour into the film – and while it’s nice to see the three traveling around the continent taking in the sights, meeting various folk that mould their experience along the way, it’s hard to see what scenes of them out buying ice-creams with a stranger from their homeland, or partying away in a nightclub really add to the narrative. Also, at certain points, I even forgot where they were, as the action moved from city to city at a rate on knots.

Blyskal does her best with themes that involve the unpredictability of tomorrow and the foreboding of the incoming terrorist incident, Stone constantly believing that he has something more important to do in his near future, but the set-up of the movie doesn’t work in the slightest.

The 15:17 To Paris review
The 15:17 To Paris review

The weak script and the inexperienced actors are one thing – and the latter cannot be blamed for any shortcomings as all of them are decent, particularly Stone, throughout – but one can’t quite help but think that they were tied to the words in the screenplay, and not given that room to improvise for a more naturalistic feel to the movie, which may have worked so much better.

Another plus is that when we do eventually see what happened on board that train – what these three men went through, along with all of the other passengers – Eastwood really brings his A-game and delivers an intense, seat-gripping sequence that is promised throughout. It’s just a shame that the rest of the film failed to meet that mark. As it stands, The 15:17 To Paris is clumsy, often amateurish (and I’m not referring to the main actors) attempt at bringing what should have been an interesting, very personal account of a definite act of genuine heroism to the big-screen.

The 15:17 To Paris review by Paul Heath, February 2017.

The 15:17 To Paris review is released in UK cinemas on Friday 9th February, 2018.

The 15:17 To Paris