(UPDATED 2/1/2019) Description and review of The 15:17 to Paris, the Clint Eastwood-directed movie starring Sacramento-area heroes Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler playing themselves.
The reviews of The 15:17 to Paris, a true-life story about the heroics of three young local men who stopped a terror attack on a high-speed train heading to Paris on August 21, 2015, were not – to say the least – complementary, but I wanted to see the movie and judge for myself. Two friends joined me.
I also wanted to check out the new Downtown Commons (DOCO) movie theatre which has been modernized to what is now the new standard – lounge seating, a bar, etc.
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The 15:17 to Paris starts out with the three life-long friends as boys growing up in the Sacramento area – with periodic flashbacks to the events as they unfolded on the train from Amsterdam to Paris on that fateful day in 2015.
I think that perhaps I found this part of the movie more interesting than most moviegoers might because of the local angle. The “boys” had a fascination with war and guns, and they spent a lot of time in the school principal’s office for a variety of infractions.
As young adults the three friends, who had gone their separate ways, stayed in touch and remained best friends. Skarlatos was an Oregon National Guardsman, Stone was a U.S. Airman, and Sadler was attending college in Sacramento. The decision of the three to take a vacation trip to Europe together led to the series of actual events depicted in The 15:17 to Paris.
One friend described this part of the film as a “travelogue”. The film depicted their sightseeing in various countries in Europe, with shots of prominent European landmarks in the background. Also depicted were their interactions with people they encountered on the trip. As one might expect, numerous “selfies” were taken throughout the trip. Not everyone is interested in seeing pictures of your latest vacation, as was noted by some of the critics.
The critics have panned the so-called “acting” of the three, but to be fair I had read that Clint Eastwood had rebuffed their request for “acting lessons”. Instead of “acting” what you have is the three “re-enacting” the events that occurred. I find it hard to criticize the re-enactment.
The scenes of the attempted takeover of the train by Moroccan national Ayoub El-Khazzani were action packed. Events unfolded quickly, just as it had happened that day. El-Khazzani emerged from the train restroom armed with an AK-47, a pistol, a box-cutter and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
After shooting and seriously injuring a passenger (Mark Moogalian who also plays himself in the film), El-Khazzani proceeded to make has way down the aisle. There is no doubt that his intent was to inflict death and destruction.
Stone runs down the aisle and attacks El-Khazzani, getting him in a choke-hold and struggles to subdue him. He is assisted by Skarlatos, Sadler and a British passenger Chris Norman (who likewise plays himself in the film). Luckily the AK-47 had jammed – who knows what might have happened otherwise. El-Khazzani is subdued and tied up and Stone, an Air Force medic who is himself wounded, turns his attention to preventing Moogalian from bleeding to death until medical personnel arrive to tend to him.
I can’t imagine what both Moolgalian and Stone were thinking as they re-enacted the scene where Moolgalian’s life blood was spurting from his neck while Stone sought to stem the flow of blood by applying pressure to the wound with his fingers.
The last major event to be portrayed in the film are the three, plus British passenger Norman, being recognized for their valor. The four were awarded the French Legion of Honour. I had hoped that the 2015 parade held in Sacramento in honor of our Sacramento heroes would be shown in the film – but it was not. Too bad – that was a special and proud day for Sacramento residents.
Back to the movie. Yes, the time devoted in the film to the three as young boys could have been tightened up, as could their early years as young adults as they tried to decide what they wanted to do and be in life.
My friends and I discussed the film over lunch afterwards and our major criticism of The 15:17 to Paris was the dialogue. We found it somewhat – ok more than somewhat – hard to believe that some of the lines delivered were actually representative of the actual conversations that took place. I have to admit that I did not read the book – so I could be wrong.
As I write this the Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” of all critics is at 24% approval rating, with top critics at 18%. Audience approval stands at 45%.
The Critics Consensus per Rotten Tomatoes is “The 15:17 to Paris pays clumsily well-intentioned tribute to an act of heroism, but by casting the real-life individuals involved, director Clint Eastwood fatally derails his own efforts.”
I personally find myself in alignment with the audience approval rating. Yes, the movie had its flaws – but all in all I liked it more than not.
(UPDATED 2/1/2019) On September 20, 2018 Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone were awarded French citizenship for their bravery on that fateful day in 2015. This week, Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, the consul general of France in San Francisco, awarded the three men their naturalization paperwork, including French birth certificates. Normally a resident must live in France for five continuous years before they can be naturalized, but an exception was made for the three heroes. The ceremony was held at the Alliance Francaise in Midtown Sacramento.
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