The new Clint Eastwood movie, “The 15:17 to Paris,” may be the weirdest film of the year. It’s a thrusting reactionary fable that ends up bumping into the rear of the avant-garde. If the outlaw Josey Wales had put on white makeup and retrained as a mime artist, I couldn’t have been more surprised.
The plot is simple and, for the most part, true. On August 21, 2015, a Moroccan named Ayoub El Khazzani boarded a train to Paris, which had begun its journey in Amsterdam. In the toilet, he removed his shirt and armed himself with an assault rifle, a pistol, and a box cutter. Carrying almost three hundred rounds of ammunition, he emerged and made his way into the adjacent car. The rifle was wrested from him by an American-born Frenchman, Mark Moogalian, only for El Khazzani to shoot him with the pistol. The assailant retrieved the rifle, levelled it at a young American airman, Spencer Stone, and fired. The gun jammed. Stone and two of his friends, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, felled El Khazzani and held him down. He was beaten in the face with the rifle butt, subdued, and tied up. Stone, badly cut in the struggle, then attended to Moogalian, who was bleeding profusely from a neck wound. The train soon stopped at Arras and the French police arrived. Khazzani was arrested and taken away. Paramedics took over from Stone. Nobody died.
It was quite a story at the time, and the news coverage was excitable and widespread. But how do you make a ninety-four-minute movie out of an incident that lasted a matter of minutes, however crazed those minutes may have been? Eastwood’s solution, with the aid of his screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal, is to flick back through the histories of his heroes. Just as the attack on the train is about to erupt, we cut to Sacramento, in 2005, where Spencer and Alek are buddies, and where their mothers are called in by the principal, who diagnoses attention-deficit disorder and advises medication. “You want to drug my child to make your job easier?” one of the moms asks. An excellent retort, for anyone wishing to hold back the tide of Ritalin, but even here you can feel the movie glancing to the future: might there not come a time, and a place, in which to be restless and alert will prove to be an advantage?
Read more at The New Yorker.