TL;DR – It has a rocky start, but it sucks you in and hits you with an emotional punch at the end.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a Mid-Credit sequence.
What would you do if a terrorist, or any gunman, to be honest, started shooting at people while you were on a train? This is a question I have had to ask myself today as I walked out of the cinemas. Would you run? Would you hide? Would you confront them and try to stop it? While I may want to think I would do that latter, deep down I know I would likely freeze not knowing what to do, which was an interesting thing to ponder about your life. Well, there are some people out there in the world who know what they would do because it happened to them one day in August in 2015. So today we are going to look at a film that is both a testament to courage under fire and also one of the most fascinating casting choices I have seen in a very long time. It is also the most Clint Eastwood film I have seen in quite a while.
So to set the scene, in the 1990s a group of misfits find each other while attending a Christian school in California. Spencer Stone (William Jennings) and Alek Skarlatos (Bryce Gheisar) are best friends and neighbours but don’t have a lot of other friends which changes one day when Anthony Sadler (Paul-Mikél Williams) moves into the neighbourhood. Over time the group is broken up by moves out of state and to different schools, but they always stayed friends. In 2015, Spencer (Spencer Stone) is in the Airforce trying to find a role that suited him after medical issues stopped him from being part of the para-rescue unit, Alek (Alek Skarlatos) in on tour in Afghanistan and is coming to the end of his deployment, and Anthony (Anthony Sadler) is studying at university in California. Now since everyone’s schedules lined up they all decided to backpack through Europe as a group because who knows when that will happen again, which leads to them all boarding a train in Amsterdam to Paris one fateful day.
Now, from the section above you may have already picked up what is really interesting about The 15:17 to Paris, and that is the main cast is actually the people who were on the train in 2015. They didn’t cast actors to replace them, and I have to say this must have been a huge gamble on the part of Clint Eastwood, because while we may think differently, not everyone can act, and casting your lead performers can make or break a film. So the question is how did they do? And to be honest, it was not perfect, but it was compelling. I didn’t actually like maybe the first half of the film the script felt a bit clunky and unnecessarily blunt. There were a lot of awkwardly framed scenes where our three leads talk at each other rather than to each other, and I was about to wonder had the experiment failed. However, as the film went on you could see the cast become more confident with what they were doing, the interactions became more natural, and they started to suck you into the narrative even when you already know what the outcome is. I don’t think any other filmmaker other than Clint Eastwood would have been able to talk the studio into taking this route, but I am glad they did.
Part of what helps this process is that they have a lot of really well-known actors there, sometimes in really small parts to help film come together. You have Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer playing Spencer and Alek’s mothers, you have Thomas Lennon as a principle, and they even have Tony Hale who pops up for a scene to yell at some children. Also, the film focuses in mostly on Spencer’s story as we see him training and gaining the skills that will become very handy by the end of the film. This gives the film a sense of structure, added by flash-forwards to the train so that there is always a feeling on the tension in the back of your mind as you know what they are barrelling towards. As well as this, we move from the guys having sort of awkward conversations with each other to being out in the world and it works so much better for the film.
Now all of this leads to them gallivanting across Europe and taking a detour to Amsterdam after a recommendation from a kindly old gentleman, and in case you don’t know what happened I will drop a [SPOILER] warning here. It is here where we really see the brilliance of casting the actual people on the train, the three leads and also Isabelle Risacher Moogalian & Mark Moogalian. Because, you lose that sense of detachment that you usually get when watching an action scene, and I found myself actually becoming quite emotional watching it. Now I am someone who has over the last couple of years has come to accept that I will get emotional in films, hell I ugly cried in the middle of the cinemas twice in the one week last year with Coco (see review) and Paddington 2 (see review). But The 15:17 to Paris blindsided me because I was not expecting it at all because it was just an action scene, but it still hit me like a ton of bricks. No how did this happen, well it was all down to the leading cast, I was watching what they went through on what must have been the worst moments in their lives, when death was only one jammed gun away. It was the way that everyone acted to try and stop the carnage, the way they comforted the people that had been shot and raced to find things that would save his life. I think it made me very self-reflective in the moment and I was completely not expecting it, hell I’m getting a bit teary just thinking about it as I write here. So I have to applaud the filmmakers for this bold choice and the cast for making it work, because boy did it work.
All this being said it is not a perfect film, and indeed the start is a bit of a struggle to get through. There are a couple of points where instead of just foreshadowing something, they shine a giant spotlight on it so you couldn’t miss that it was important if you tried. As well as this, it pushes things a bit too far at times. For example, we know that the person on the train with the gun is the bad guy, it is completely unambiguous, but the film stops so we get some really dramatic music as the camera pans in to show one of his eyes staring furiously into the mirror. It almost reached cartoonish levels and there were a couple of other moments like this that didn’t need to be there. Also, there were sometimes when I don’t know but I could not see two people ever talking like that to each other, the dialogue just felt unnatural.
In the end, do we recommend The 15:17 to Paris? Yes, we do. It might be a bit rough around the edges, but this an important film for just as much with regards, to the event, as well as the film itself. This was an emotionally powerful piece of cinema, and is one of those rare films that might transcend the usual cinematic divides that appear around films like this. Make sure you check this one out.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The 15:17 to Paris
Directed by – Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by – Dorothy Blyskal
Based on – The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldier’s by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler & Alek Skarlatos
Music by – Christian Jacob & Thomas Newman
Cinematography by – Tom Stern
Edited by – Blu Murray
Starring – Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Ray Corasani, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Tony Hale, Thomas Lennon, Paul-Mikel Williams, Max Ivutin, Bryce Gheisar, Cole Eichenberger, William Jennings, Alisa Allapach, Isabelle Risacher Moogalian & Mark Moogalian.
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: na; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: 15; United States: PG-13