On August 21, 2015, a 25-year-old Moroccan boarded a Paris-bound train with a backpack containing an assault rifle, 270 rounds of ammunition, a pistol, a knife and a bottle of petrol. He opened fire in a train carriage before his AK47 jammed and he was, as Wikipedia puts it in admirably restrained prose, ‘subsequently subdued by passengers’. And how.
Clint Eastwood directs this movie account of an amazing true story of luck and courage. It couldn’t but appeal to strait-laced, patriotic Eastwood: three young American men – two of them white and in the military, their childhood friend a black Christian, all of them fond of guns and war games (although they were unarmed here) – take on a fanatical jihadi bent on mass murder. A Clint Eastwood wet dream! But no amount of fashionable anti-American sneering can change the facts of the story or detract from its power as a tale of courage and decisiveness in the face of evil.
One of the most interesting things about this movie is that the three young men play themselves. This leads to a certain dullness in the portrayal of events and dialogue in the days leading up to the train incident. They drink, they meet girls, but the most Eastwood is prepared to show us – perhaps the most they were prepared to reveal in the book they collectively wrote – is the three of them recovering from a monumental hangover one morning in their Amsterdam hotel. I mean, three red-blooded twenty-something guys on the loose in Europe for the first time? I’m sure their conversation wasn’t always as high-minded and banal as it’s portrayed here. That quibble aside, the movie has some interesting things to say about how ordinary decent people, with ordinary dreams, can sometimes rise to extraordinary heights of – I’m gonna say it – heroism. If the actions of these young fellas – especially Spencer Stone, who charged straight at a man pointing an AK-47 at him – weren’t noble, then there’s no such thing as nobility. Stone was not to know that the jihadi’s assault rifle would jam. That’s another deeply interesting thing about this story: the role played by luck in human affairs. It’s an aspect that Stone and the others don’t deny. They never tried to big-note themselves or exaggerate their role, and in my view they truly deserve the honours, including the Legion d’Honneur, showered on them by the French and American governments.
I adored this movie. Five stars.
This review was first published on Facebook in February 2018