The 15:17 to Paris tells the heroic true story of three young Americans traveling across Europe and found themselves on the train to Paris on fateful day in 2015.
Directed by Clint Eastwood from a screenplay, Dorothy Blyskal, the film features the real-life heroes playing themselves: Anthony Sadler, former Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and former U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone. They are joined in the cast by Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, Ray Corasani, PJ Byrne, Tony Hale, and Thomas Lennon. Playing the trio when they were attending school are Paul-Mikél Williams, Bryce Gheisar, and William Jennings.
We’re briefly introduced to the trio of heroes before flashing back to a time in their lives when they were struggling in school and soon became friends. The film depicts Stone’s journey in the Air Force more so than how Alek came to be in the Oregon National Guard or what Anthony was doing during the time before the backpacking trip in Europe.
Slowly but surely, we’re following Spencer and Anthony throughout Europe until their joined by Alek, who had been visiting his German girlfriend while on leave from security guard duties Afghanistian. Hesitant at times, they ultimately decide to visit Paris, when shots are suddenly fired on the Thalys train #9364 after reaching France. With over 500 people on board, they never hesitate to subdue the shooter, Ayoub (Corasani), and offer whatever help they can until medical providers can arrive to help Mark Moogalian, who plays himself and is joined by his wife, Isabelle.
The film makes the best of comic actors Tony Hale and Thomas Lennon during their brief performances on screen as Coach Murray and Prince Michael Akers, respectively. Their whole childhood struggles surprisingly play mostly for laughs as the film eventually gives way to the seriousness of the courage and bravery that went down on the night of August 21, 2015. Whether this was an intentional decision to play for laughs, I’m not sure.
As for the three heroes who play themselves, they don’t have to fake any of their friendship because all three of them are friends in real life. While it’s rare for filmmakers to cast the real heroes or shooting victims, the casting here plays to the film’s advantage in the end. Eastwood could have easily made the decision to go for that docu-drama route or even hire professional actors but gets better performances out of the people who were there at the time. The only key question mark is why make the audience wait for over an hour following their childhood and journey through Europe before the trio finally gets on the train.
It is fitting, however, that Eastwood decided to use the actual footage of the ceremony–in addition to new footage shot at the Élysée Palace and beautifully edited by Blu Murray– honoring the four heroes on the train with Légion d’Honneur, one of the highest honors from the French government, The ceremony also included real-life train passenger Chris Norman, who attended to Mark’s aid, too.
Delivering a heroic and inspiring true story, Eastwood doesn’t let us down.
Warner Bros. Pictures will open The 15:17 To Paris on Friday, February 9, 2018.