On the 21st August 2015, a terrorist attempted to take an automatic rifle and cause mayhem on the Thalys trans-Europe express number 9364 to Paris. Four passengers, three of them best friends from America on a trip around Europe, jumped on the terrorist and prevented many deaths. Clint Eastwood, never a man to shy away from pro-American patriot heroism, decided to put the events to film, casting the real-life heroes as actors to reproduce the events of the day and preceding years.
No matter how heroic the trio’s real-life events may have been, the actual event was over in minutes. That does not necessarily make for a good 94 minutes of cinema, yet Eastwood has been here before; Sully was a film about a commonplace man who saved hundreds of lives during one mishap every airline pilot dreads. Yet that worked, mainly due to the cast managing to bring the tedium of everyday life to something grander than monotony. Here, however, Eastwood has landed himself with a trio of everyday Joe protagonists with no prior acting history, and it shows.
Spenser Stone seems to get the most amount of screen-time here – maybe because he joined the army and continually failed (eyesight issues stopped him joining the squad he wanted, and he was thrown out of survival because of substandard sewing) – Anthony Sadler gets almost no time at all, being the one who doesn’t join the army and therefore presumably not fitting into Eastwood’s patriot idealism. We see marine Alek Skarlatos a little more, but generally on the opposite end of Sadler’s dull Skype conversations. We learn nothing of the terrorist at all, apart from the fact he spent a suspiciously long amount of time in the train toilet.
Maybe Eastwood sees this as an artistic experiment, maybe he sees it as an opportunity to give real life heroes a chance of limelight; either way, it simply doesn’t work. This is the story of three very normal guys having regular upbringings, careers, problems and holidays, yet with one dramatic five-minute moment of madness. Eastwood haphazardly attempts to intersect flash-forwards to pre-attack proceedings on the train throughout, yet they feel clumsy and arbitrary, adding nothing to the ongoing lifeless narrative. What is perhaps most surprising is the total lack of imagination of camerawork on show given that Tom Stern (Mystic River, American Sniper) is at the cinematographic helm.
The three men (plus a French passenger who gets virtually no mention whatsoever until medal-time) did something amazingly brave and spectacular, but as filmmaking goes, Eastwood has made an absolute turkey here. Sometimes even the best of us can be blindsided by our passions, and Eastwood here had let his desires for patriotism, family, American values and God get in the way of producing anything of worth.
Dir: Clint Eastwood
Scr: Dorothy Blyskal
Cast: Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone
Prd: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Meier, Tim Moore, Kristina Rivera
DOP: Tom Stern
Music: Christian Jacob
Run Time: 94 minutes