A group of friends who met in junior high school take on an international terrorist threat in “The 15:17 to Paris.”
“The 15:17 to Paris,” directed by Clint Eastwood, follows the true story of three Americans who stop a terrorist attack aboard a Paris-bound train while traveling together through Europe. The film incorporated the backstories of Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos – who all play themselves – following them from their junior high school experiences to their eventual moment of heroism, adding a humanizing layer to the otherwise action-packed film.
Like many films of this genre, the action aboard the train could easily have dominated the film. However, the elaborate backstory of the men’s friendship helped create a more intimate connection to the characters, as audiences watch Skarlatos move away to Oregon and Stone decide to join the Air Force. The ensuing action is more fulfilling because the audience has watched the characters grow up together.
While the lives of Skarlatos and Stone are explored in great depth, Sadler’s story is left behind in the narrative. In one scene, Stone video chats with Sadler, who appears to be in a college dorm – the only indication of his life after high school. Sadler does not have the same amount of screen time as his counterparts. Though his role in the attack is not as prominent, a little more of his history after high school might have made his character feel as developed as the other two.
The narrative also fails in several instances of forced foreshadowing. In one scene, Stone and Sadler stand on a rooftop porch in Italy, looking over the city of Venice below while engaging in weighty conversation about their destiny. The conversation felt unnecessarily profound, especially considering they were young men galavanting around Europe. In a different scene, Skarlatos’ mother bids him goodbye as he leaves for Afghanistan, telling him how God told her that there is something exciting in store for him – yet another forced preview for the fateful attack that is to come.
Toward the end of the film, the plot finally progresses into the attack, and the trio’s heroics on the train are not for the faint of heart. Each scene is incredibly fast-paced, nerve-wracking and violent – by far the highlight of the movie. In one scene, Stone charges the gunman, who shoots at him with an empty gun, allowing Stone to use his newly developed jujitsu skills, using a hold he learned earlier in the movie. In contrast to the relatively slow-moving scenes covering the men’s backstory, the scenes on the train are satisfying successes, as the viewer watches Stone finally master the techniques he struggled with in training.
Though the train scenes offered satisfying bursts of adrenaline, the film’s ending, in which the French president hands out four medals to the heroes, is lacking. Since the film really only elaborates on the story of Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos, the mention of a fourth hero aboard the train – who is seen only briefly attempting to disarm the terrorist – is jarring, ending the film with a sense of incompleteness.
But despite its narrative flaws, “The 15:17 to Paris” is an uplifting movie about the resilience and determination of the human spirit in the face of a life-threatening situation. In light of the many disastrous attacks in recent history, the film provides some refreshing optimism because, for once, everybody lives.