Realistic portrayal of attack in The 15:17 To Paris

Real-life heroes (from far left) Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone in The 15:17 To Paris.
Real-life heroes (from far left) Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone in The 15:17 To Paris.PHOTO: WARNER BROS

REVIEW / DRAMA THRILLER

THE 15:17 TO PARIS (PG13)

94 minutes/Opens today/ 3 stars

The story: In a 2015 terrorist attack on an Amsterdam-to-Paris train, three young American tourists somehow manage to take down a gunman armed to the teeth, averting a bloodbath. This movie is director Clint Eastwood's dramatic re-creation of that day and the events leading up to it.

The incident made for a thrilling news story - but this does not automatically make it the easiest subject for a movie. The attack itself was brief, so one would need to find the human interest in either the backstory or aftermath.

Eastwood finds a unique way into the story, getting the three real-life heroes - Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos - to play themselves, while hiring professional actors to portray them as childhood friends growing up in Sacramento, California.

It is a gamble that does not entirely pay off. The result is an awkward hybrid that is a documentary re-enactment, television movie, Christian drama, army-recruitment advertisement and amateur holiday video all rolled into one.

The re-creation of the attack itself, though, is heart-stopping. One watches in horror as the terrorist whips out his gun, shoots a passenger in the neck and slashes Stone in the neck as the two grapple.

Eastwood masterfully re-creates the blood-curdling fear and panic on the train, contrasting that with the men's astonishing courage as the rest of the passengers do what most people would: Freeze and cower.

Knowing the trio one is watching on screen did this for real makes it all the more powerful.

But the rest of the film is just odd. Eastwood delves into their childhood to figure out why Stone felt he was fated to do something like this. And the explanation he comes up with is so simplistic, and the tone and production values so uneven, it feels like a heavy-handed television movie.

Stone's Christianity is also dropped rather unceremoniously into some scenes - although his asking the injured passenger if the latter wanted to pray with him provides a moment of raw honesty amid the action.

Finally, there is an odd interlude where the three friends do nothing but tour Europe and see the sights before boarding the train. Like most vacation videos, this could have used some heavy editing.

Still, Eastwood deserves credit for trying something a little different. One could even rationalise the sheer mundanity of the holiday segment by arguing it is a pretty accurate depiction of the calm before the storm, and makes the shock of what happens next on the train all the more stark.

The movie also asks a question we are all curious about: What makes heroes do what they do? And while he does not quite answer it, that is maybe the point - that the ineffability of it is what makes a story like this so compelling.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2018, with the headline 'Realistic portrayal of attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe