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February 16, 2018

The 15:17 to Paris (2018) --- "3 Guys vs 1 Terrorist. They're Road To Victory Will Inspire You."

Plot Summary
From Clint Eastwood comes “The 15:17 to Paris,” which tells the real-life story of three men whose brave act turned them into heroes during a high-speed railway ride. In the early evening of August 21, 2015, the world watched in stunned silence as the media reported a thwarted terrorist attack on Thalys train #9364 bound for Paris—an attempt prevented by three courageous young Americans traveling through Europe. The film follows the course of the friends’ lives, from the struggles of childhood through finding their footing in life, to the series of unlikely events leading up to the attack. Throughout the harrowing ordeal, their friendship never wavers, making it their greatest weapon and allowing them to save the lives of the more than 500 passengers on board. The heroic trio is comprised of Anthony Sadler, Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone, who play themselves in the film. Starring alongside them are Jenna Fischer,  Judy Greer, Ray Corasani, PJ Byrne, Tony Hale, and Thomas Lennon. (1)

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Hello, Movie Buffs! 
     As humans, we love the idea of ordinary people performing extraordinary acts of humanity, especially during intense-crisis. On August 21st, 2015 three American friends – Sacramento State senior Anthony Sadler, Army National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos, and Airman First Class Spencer Stone – are on a summer backpacking trip around Europe when their train from Amsterdam to Paris becomes the target for a very catastrophic terrorist attack. For those who have heard of the story know that terrorist Ayoub El-Khazzani (Ray Corasani) armed himself – with guns, a box cutter, and over 300 rounds of ammunition – and opened fire on the unsuspecting passengers of the train. We know that instead of being one of the worst bloodbaths since 9/11, the terrorist was disabled after only two injuries and the three Americans along with an Englishman received the highest level of gratitude from the nation of France; wherein the incident occurred. Afterwards, Alek, Spencer, and Anthony collaborated with magazine writer Jeffrey Stern to write about their lives leading up to the incident on August 21st in the book The 15:17 To Paris. So it is only fitting that their story of incredible heroism is depicted by 87-year-old director Clint Eastwood, who turned the book into a compelling and heartfelt film.

     This is Clint Eastwood’s (Hacksaw Ridge) 36th film as a director but that doesn’t mean that he did not encounter his own share of challenges. The challenge he faced with this story is turning a brief in counter, one that lasted minutes, and turn it into a compelling 90-minute film. Eastwood did so brilliantly and despite knowing the outcome, manages to capture a strong sense of immediacy that keeps audiences riveted. Eastwood avoids turning The 15:17 To Paris (2018) into a glorified anti-Islamic campaign, and instead goes for a different kind of heroism that is rooted in simple acts of humanity rather than blind patriotism. Since the events on the train only lasted around a few minutes, the story shifts from past to present a few times. Some people may find the flip-flop to be a bit confusing and others may think that the decision to focus primarily on the three men’s childhoods slows the pace of the film. Now, I have seen similar storytelling in films like Miracles from Heaven (2016) and Heaven is Real (2014), where the majority of the intense scenes took place at the end of the film. So in order to appreciate the acts and bravery of Alek, Anthony, and Spencer we have to know how they came to be whom they are; what happened in their lives for them to end up at this point?
     In terms of the cast, Clint Eastwood chose to take a more unconventional route by letting the actual heroes portray themselves and these three young men performed amazingly well considering their lack of acting experience. These real-life heroes didn’t need actors to subdue the terrorist and they certainly didn't need actors to tell their story for them; it’s also pretty great that at least two of the guys are Christians. In addition to playing themselves, their roles were average in a perfect way; there were no embellishments added to make them appear to be more than human. While this decision of Eastwood’s may end up costing him a few bucks at the Box Office, I agree that it was the best part of the film. These men displayed exceptional amount of courage not in a sappy or glorified hero way but rather with a sense of understanding and turn for their acts received the Legion of Honor by French President – the highest level of honor in France – and upon their return to America received a hero’s welcome and a number of medals.
     Among the three heroes, there is a more primary focus on Spencer Stone’s part of the film. Stone has a strong sense that he is being guided by God, we see this when he recites the powerful prayer of St. Francis even as a child. During their trip around Europe, Stone mentions that he feels like, “life is just pushing us toward something, some greater purpose,” which is wise and prophetic considering the events that unfold and a few days later. After joining the Air Force Stone was denied being a Pararescue troop due to his lack of depth perception, so he chooses a different profession that led him taking classes in Ju Jitsu and medical training. Ironically it is these traits, as well as the traits of Alek and Anthony, that helped him and his friends subdue the gunman.
     Now the events that take place on the train are only slightly altered from book to film but only by a smidgen. In the film, it shows that minutes after seeing the gunman Alek tells Stone to go with the intention to tackle guy despite not knowing that the gun was jammed. However, it the book states that Alex didn’t tell Stone to go until after they noticed the gun was jammed. “It looked like it was jammed or it wasn’t working, and he was trying to charge the weapon, Alek just hit me on the shoulder and said, ‘Let’s go,’” says Stone to press gathered at the French U.S. embassy. I didn’t really find much problem with this change because the scene itself is so fast paced that by adding that small change could have potentially slowed down the pace.
     Overall, The 15:17 to Paris (2018) is entertaining and director Clint Eastwood is perfect for the job because he brings this act heroism and humanity to the forefront of the cinema industry. It was an unconventional and perfect decision to let the real heroes play themselves in the film, we got see the characters as they are and not in some big name actors’ glorified portrayal. Of course, the main reason why this film received such negative reviews is that the overall film is not as action pack and intense as the trailer might want you to believe. But I actually found this to be an interesting take of the film's storytelling, which reminds me of films like Miracles from Heaven (2016) and Heaven is Real (2014), where the majority of the intense scenes took place at the end of the film. I recommend this film to anyone who is willing to watch it with patience and an open mind.

"Do you ever feel like life is just pushing us toward something, some greater purpose."

– Spencer Stone

Final Vote
Worth Seeing:  8 of 10 stars
Worth Buying:  8 of 10 stars

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