Movie Review: The 15:17 to Paris [video]
Movie Review: The 15:17 to Paris [video]
It’s not slick or fancy, but it’s real. Clint Eastwood’s latest film recounts the 2015 terrorist attack on a Paris bound train, where thankfully enough, no one died. This is primarily because three men stood up in the face of danger. They were your unknown average twenty-somethings, just making their unhurried way through Europe on a bro-trip. They were lifelong friends, two of them were in the military, and they were Americans.
Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler are men that make us proud. Their truly heroic actions that day stopped a terrorist in his tracks, and saved the life of everyone on the train, including Mark Moogalian who was shot by the assailant. Much of the credit goes to Spencer, who charged the armed terrorist and with the help of Alek, and Anthony, and others, wrestled him until he was subdued. Then Spencer aided Mark, keeping his blood loss to a minimum until he could receive proper medical care. Alek, a specialist in the Oregon Army National Guard, was coming off a tour in Afghanistan. Spencer, a member of the United States Air Force, had prior training in martial arts and first aid. They were well-equipped to deal with the situation, but the thing that made this outcome successful is that all of them jumped into action without hesitation.
The most fascinating part of the production of this movie is that these men play themselves. This is not something we see everyday. We are used to seeing special effects, slick productions, CGI, explosives, gorgeous people. Clint Eastwood made the controversial decision to cast the men as themselves, and after seeing the movie, I can’t imagine it any other way. Telling the story through the real life heroes is exactly how this needed to be done. I cannot think of a better way to honor the story and to honor them.
Casting real life people to tell their story is risky. Eastwood has already been criticized for this and how he has chosen to convey the event. Some the criticism, the usual “if you love America, you’re a jingoist” stuff is typical hater-ade. Some of the criticism is valid – if you are looking for a shiny, perfectly coiffed movie, this isn’t it. The dialogue itself is a little stilted and simplistic in parts. The acting, to include the professional actors, is sometimes very good, sometimes just ok. The pace is a little uneven. But isn’t that life?
The movie as presented is perfect in my opinion. It reflects us – we move through life at an uneven speed, we don’t speak with precision, and we don’t look like movie stars. Most days there’s not much to write home about. It’s just a normal existence, and this is the brilliance of the movie itself. This could happen to anyone of us. We may be called to stand up one day too. It may happen after we’ve just ordered a Coke or a red wine. It may happen as we are trying to chill out and listen to music on our headphones. It may happen as we are making goofy jokes with our friends. We are those people. We are not movie stars, we are not superheroes. Life happens to us, everyday. There was no better way to portray this event than to have those who lived it tell the story.
Spencer, Alek, and Anthony met while attending a Christian school in Sacramento, California. Throughout the movie, references to faith are made. There is not an overbearing message of religion, but the idea of service and having a calling do play a part, particularly for Spencer. He is shown as a child, and after the attack, reciting the Peace Prayer of St. Francis. This tied together his childhood and the moment he was called to act against evil.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
As it turns out, several of the real people involved in the event played themselves in the movie. Clint Eastwood said that for many, instead of reliving the trauma, it provided a cartharsis. Mark Mooligan, who was shot, played himself, as did his wife. Nurses and detectives from the real event played themselves, and the families of the young men were all present during the real life award ceremony in France and show up in the final scene. (There is also a short scene after the credits, so stick around for the epilogue).
The end scene is flawless and moving. It incorporates the real life footage of President Hollande awarding France’s highest honor, the Légion d’honneur, to Spencer, Alek, and Anthony, and to the Brit Chris Norman who also assisted in subduing the terrorist. Hollande’s speech at the award ceremony contained precisely the right words, to honor the men, and to remind us all of our humanity, and the courage that resides in each of us. Anthony’s words are also worth repeating:
Asked if there were lessons, Sadler had one for all who find themselves in the face of a choice.
“Do something,” he said. “Hiding, or sitting back, is not going to accomplish anything. And the gunman would’ve been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up. So I just want that lesson to be learned going forward, in times of, like, terror like that, please do something. Don’t just stand by and watch.”
If you are contemplating seeing The 15:17 to Paris, I recommend it, but be aware, this is a different kind of movie. Throw the normal expectations of movie-going out the window. You will witness real life, in all its plainness, and heartbreak, and frustration, and small daily triumphs. And you will witness the greatness that lies in each of us, and the faith that we will have the strength and courage to meet extraordinary challenges with the same grace and determination as did these young men on the 15:17 to Paris.