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‘The 15:17 to Paris’ Was a Heroic Attempt for Clint Eastwood

Casting real-life heroes to recreate foiled attack did not save the movie, but the idea is worthy.

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There could have been a much different ending to Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, The 15:17 to Paris.

If Anthony Sadler, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone weren’t onboard that train on April 21, 2015, the would-be terrorist the Americans subdued would certainly have killed scores of the passengers trapped onboard. The radicalized gunman packed a handgun, a box cutter and an automatic rifle with 300 rounds of ammunition.

But as it transpired on that fateful day, the right three heroes were in the right place at the right time. Stone charged Ayoub El-Khazzani after the Moroccan shot an American tourist — and then disarmed the attacker with the jiu-jitsu skills he learned in the military. Severely slashed in the process, Stone still managed to provide life-saving medical aid to the gunshot victim. Skarlatos, meanwhile, knocked El-Khazzani unconscious as Sadler ferried terrified passengers to a safer compartment. Their actions certainly deserve the big-budget cinematic treatment usually reserved for fictional spies and superheroes.

And so do they.

THE 15:17 TO PARIS
From l. Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone. (KEITH BERNSTEIN/WARNER BROS. PICTURES)

So Eastwood took a huge gamble in casting Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone to play themselves in a chillingly realistic recreation of that fateful train-ride. Even real-life gunshot victim Mark Moogalian plays himself in what must have been a traumatic day on the set.

The result is as immersive a feeling as a ticket-buyer can have in the theater, reliving the moments through the eyes of the people who lived it.

Those moments though are not enough to make for a very good full-length movie.

In the hands of a lesser director, it would feel like more of a gimmick. (Act of Valor, a mediocre action film with real Navy SEALS playing reel Navy SEALS wasn’t worthy of its cast.) In Eastwood’s hands, disappointingly, it still isn’t a four-star effort.

As good as they are at taking down terrorists, Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone’s skills do not extend to acting. And to get to the exciting climax, a movie-goer has to sit through a lot of muddling theatrics.

The 15:17 to Paris may appeal more to faith-based and conservative audiences than cinephiles. But this is a case where the very effort should be applauded — and supported.

Military heroes have been ready for their close-up with a recent spate of big screen tributes (12 Strong, American Sniper, Lone Survivor13 Hours – The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Zero Dark Thirty). At the end of the day, its just actors playing make-believe.

Sadly, Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone are no Hemsworth, Cooper and Wahlberg. And with all due respect to Hemsworth, Cooper and Wahlberg, they’re no Sadler, Skarlatos or Stone.