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New to Netflix - THE 15:17 TO PARIS

The 15:17 to Paris review
The true story of how three young American men foiled a terrorist attack aboard a Paris bound train in 2015.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer

THE 15:17 TO PARIS poster

In 2016, Clint Eastwood gave us Sully, a 96 minute film based on a three minute act of real life heroism. In 2018, Eastwood gave us The 15:17 to Paris, a 94 minute film based on a three minute act of real life heroism. If I ever find myself caught up in a dramatic life or death situation, I'll do my best to somehow stretch the event out to 90 minutes so Eastwood can justify mining a full movie out of it.

In the summer of 2015, three young American men - Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos - were travelling aboard a train from Amsterdam bound for the French capital when they found themselves confronted by a man armed with an assault rifle, who had just shot another passenger. Sensing a massacre was about to play out, the three Americans attacked the would be killer, averting a probable tragedy.

The 15:17 to Paris review

Eastwood seizes upon the novel idea of casting Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos as themselves, and surprisingly - despite some rough around the edges acting that suggests none of them will be filling the void left by the retirement of Daniel Day Lewis - this aspect isn't the disaster it all too easily might have been. Eastwood exploits the likeable nature of the trio, especially the perma-smiling Stone, who becomes the central figure of the narrative, likely because he displayed the most bravery in tackling the gunman head on. I'm breathing a sigh of relief that the three amateur players give a decent account of themselves, because I would have felt very uncomfortable moaning about the acting ability of three men who averted a massacre.

The fact that Eastwood coaxes adequate performances from his inexperienced leading men is a reminder of just how good a director of actors he is. Eastwood's enthralling execution of the central incident - which takes a cue from Hitchcock's Torn Curtain in showing us just how difficult and messy an act of violence can be to pull off - reminds us of how great he is at putting together a burst of action.

The 15:17 to Paris review

The trouble is, that incident takes up no more than five minutes of the movie. If you thought Eastwood struggled to justify Sully's running time, wait till you get a load of this. Eastwood and screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal take us all the way back to the three men's childhoods, for no apparent reason other than they had to start somewhere with this nothing-burger of a story. Actual actors Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer are cast as two of the boys' mothers, which looks patently ridiculous later when they've become fully grown adults. After some scenes of youthful bonding, we then move forward to their early twenties, as Stone and Skarlatos join the military and Sadler does...something else that Eastwood apparently doesn't care much for.

This first half of The 15:17 to Paris is exactly the sort of movie people who refuse to watch Clint Eastwood movies think all his movies play out like. It's a mix between a military recruitment ad, a Libertarian Party commercial and one of those awful Christian movies that light up the U.S. box office on their opening weekends before fading into VOD obscurity. Eastwood's real life right wing persona often seems at odds with the man who made relatively progressive movies like Bird, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima (a poster of which adorns Stone's childhood bedroom here) and J. Edgar. The first 45 minutes of The 15:17 to Paris however constitute exactly the movie you would expect from Eastwood the Republican.

The 15:17 to Paris review

If Eastwood was trying to push my political and philosophical buttons here, he succeeded. I regularly found myself fuming at some of the Christian fundamentalist, anti-science, anti-authoritarian sentiment on display, but I'd rather a movie made me angry than simply put me to sleep, which is what Eastwood's dramatically inert second half threatened to. Once the three heroes arrive in Europe the film turns into a bizarrely dry travelogue, as we're forced to watch them wander through piazzas spouting inane dialogue about how old Europe is and how nice its buildings are, with a bit of ogling of the female natives for good measure (not since the last Fast & Furious movie have I seen so many upskirt shots in a movie with a Christian agenda). It's like a G-rated remake of Eli Roth's Hostel.

If you're of the political and religious mindset Eastwood is aiming to exploit here, you'll probably find a way to make excuses for this non-film. The rest of us will mourn the path one of America's finest working filmmakers has taken at this late stage of his life [EDIT: Eastwood subsequently returned to form with The Mule and Richard Jewell].

The 15:17 to Paris is on Netflix UK now.