Doped up with more prescription drugs than I care to use at any one time– due to a bout with chronic bronchitis, I ventured over to Regal Cinemas in Christiansburg to settle back into one of the theater’s new full recliner lounges to watch Clint Eastwood’s 15:17 to Paris, a fascinating film about three young Americans who saved a trainload of passengers from a one-man terrorist attack in France.
The film includes six of those involved in the tense events on that high speed train from Amsterdam to Paris on August 21, 2015: Spencer Stone, an Air Force medic, Alek Skarlotos, an An Army National Guardsman and college student Anthony Sadler — friends from their school days in Sacramento, Calif. — Mark Moogalian, a French resident born in North Carolina, and Chris Norman from Britain.
Yes, he film moved slowly with its backstory leading to that brief attack, recounting how the three met, what they endured at a repressive Christian school as they grew up and what let them a backtracking trip to Europe after Stone became an airman, Skarlotos came home from combat time in Afghanistan and their friendship with Sadler. Their inexperience as actors hampered the film sometimes but their true personalities also came through in a way that is seldom captured on film.
Their bravery, willingness to charge a man wielding an AK-47 weapon, provided an incredible, accurate story of three young men who put their own safety aside to help others and stop a man intent on killing an entire trainload of passengers.
That terrorist — armed with the AK-47, 300 rounds of ammo, a semi-automatic Luger, a box cutter and knife — boarded the train with orders from the terrorist leader who planned and executed others in Paris.
After his AK misfired, he used his box cutter to slash Stone’s neck and nearly severed his thumb as the airman before Stone and others overpowered him, tied him up, and Stone used his medic’s training to save Mooglian’s life by stopping his bleeding artery are being shot by the terrorist.
That vivid scene took just a few minutes of the film’s 94-minute running time and provided a powerful, terror-filled climax.
Their actions brought presentations of the French Legion of Honor medal, awards from the American military to the Stone and Skarlotos, a Congressional medal for Sadler, a trip to the White House and a heroes parade back home in Sacramento.
Wrote film critic David Edelstein of the attack scenes:
There’s no music — just screams, shots, and the sounds of flesh being stabbed and pummeled. Badly wounded himself, his thumb nearly severed, Stone manages to stop a passenger shot in the neck from bleeding out, and Eastwood brings the camera close to show how precarious the man’s life is. Skarlatos moves through the cars with the terrorist’s gun — frightening the passengers but making sure there’s no one else aboard who poses a threat. We’re meant to think, If not them, who? — and I could talk your ear off about Eastwood’s ahistorical filmmaking, but in this case, he has a real story.
The final sequence of The 15:17 to Paris uses shots of the actual French Legion of Honor presentation. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking I ought to stand up.