The 15:17 to Paris, rated PG-13
The 15:17 to Paris is based on the true story of the August 21, 2015 attempted terrorist attack aboard a train to Paris, and surprisingly includes a significant amount of Christian content. The film is directed by four-time Oscar winner, 87-year-old Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven). The screen play is written by Dorothy Blyskal, based on the book The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers by Jeffrey E. Stern, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spenser Stone.
The film follows the friendship of Alek Skarlatos, Spenser Stone and Anthony Sadler, who are played as adults by the real-life heroes, not professional actors, a key casting decision by Eastwood. Inserted in their story are parts of the terrorist attack onboard the train.
The teenage Alek, played by Bryce Gheisar, and Spenser, played by Cole Eichenberger are best friends at a Christian middle school in Sacramento, California. Both have single mothers, Heidi, played by Emmy nominee Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Joyce, played by Judy Greer (The Descendants). The boys often get into trouble, ending up in the principal’s office. It is there that they meet Anthony, played by Paul-Mikel Williams, who also often finds himself there.
Later, we see Spenser and Alek join the military, while Anthony attends college at Sacramento State University. Spenser has to work extremely hard to get in shape, and even his close friends don’t think he can make it, but he eventually does. Throughout the film, we are told that Spenser has always wanted to help people.
Despite being separated, the guys stay in touch, and decide to vacation in Europe. That part of the film really slows, as we see Sadler taking numerous selfies. After a night of partying, resulting in hangovers, they leave Amsterdam and board the high-speed 15:17 Thalys train to Paris.
Ayoub El Khazzani, played by Ray Corasani, a Moroccan-born terrorist is on board, armed with a knife, rifle, pistol, box cutter, and about 300 rounds of ammunition, all with the purpose of doing damage to the 500 passengers. We see him beginning his attack and then Stone, and later Sadler and Skarlatos confronting him.
Similar to his last film Sully, Eastwood uses a very economical directing style, with the film clocking in at just 94 minutes, his shortest film as a director. But the film moves rather slowly without a lot of action, until the last fifteen minutes, which was outstanding.
The film contains a significant amount of Christian content as we hear the characters pray and talk about having a purpose. But the majority of Christians in the film are portrayed as very uptight. The film does have some content concerns which include bloody violence, adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’s names and women pole-dancing in an adult club.
Themes in the film include bravery, patriotism, and friendship. The 15:17 to Paris shows that these three young men were just ordinary guys who were providentially put into a situation and responded with bravery and self-sacrifice. It’s certainly not a great movie, but having the real heroes portray themselves added to the film. (My wife thinks the film would have been better if their roles were played by actors and then the real footage used at the end of the film, because there was some very stilted dialogue).