“The 15:17 to Paris” is ride not soon forgotten

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On August 21st 2015 three young American men were taking a train from Amsterdam to Paris via Brussels. They were Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos. They had been friends since middle school in Northern California, but on that day they were continuing a fun trip through Europe, on their way to experience the delights of the City of Lights — Paris, France. Then it happened.

Alek Skarlatos

Another passenger Ayoub El-Khazzani began a horrific terrorist attack on the train using his assault rifle and roughly 300 rounds of ammunition. His motive? He claimed he was just hungry even though he had a well-known radical background including some affiliation with ISIS and several radical mosques.

The moment El-Hazzani entered their train car all three men, Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos fearlessly leaped into action. Even as El-Hazzani pointed his rifle and pulled the trigger Spencer Stone ran directly at him, disarmed him and wrestled him to the ground. Both Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler joined in subduing their attacker. With that task accomplished Anthony Stone immediately began administering life-saving aid to one wounded passenger with a severe neck wound. Eventually local police and paramedics arrived on scene, tended to the wounded passengers and took Ayoub El-Khazzani into custody.

Later all three men were awarded the highest honor from the nation of France, the Legion of Honour, presented by French President Francois Hollande. They also received praise from American President Barack Obama.

Now there tale has reached the big screen in The 15:17 to Paris but in a most unusual move multiple Academy Award Winning Actor, Producer and Director Clint Eastwood cast the three clear heroes in this story to star as themselves in the movie. How did that work out?

Anthony Sadler

Many critics don’t think it was a good idea. They also didn’t seem to care very much about a great deal of time reflecting upon the earlier lives of the three heroes. And one persistent criticism was about the abundant, some might say excessive, use of the selfie stick in a few scenes. Here is what I think.

This is a story of three fairly average guys who through totally unanticipated circumstances found themselves in a severely unusual and life threatening situation. How their friendship began, how it developed over time and how it gave them each the strength necessary to successfully repel an attack that could easily have killed hundreds of people ultimately is their story.

One of the many things the critics apparently didn’t see was large

doses of reality, an element typically lacking in most Hollywood movies. But even with the selfie stick it really comes down to the reality that for a brief time the selfie stick phenomenon was huge. Did it add anything to the overall story of great courage? No not really but it also didn’t detract and it was one significant element in their lives in 2015.

Spencer Stone

Also there have been negative comments about the young boys meeting in the principal’s office. I mean how does that create heroes? Well in truth the reality is heroes are made when ordinary boys and men or women are confronted with extraordinary circumstance and prevail. Consequently, the fact that as young men these three genuine heroes show yet again the reality that they were not perfect.

So taken all in all The 15:17 to Paris is a powerful and richly compelling film told in a very unique way.  Could “real” actors playing the three men have yielded a more powerful film? Maybe. But then again it would have been at the expense of the far too rare element of reality. And I will also confess to an experience I was not prepared for. During the speech by French President Francois Hollande during the ceremony when he was presenting the Legion of Honour to the three men plus another man, a gentleman by the name of Chris Norman who also aided in subduing the attacker I got choked up.

Again ordinary men doing extraordinary things is what creates heroes. Folks under such circumstances most people will do what most people did, run and try to hide. But then most people are simply not heroic.

A perfect film it is not. A very rare and unique film with a powerful message very much worth watching? Absolutely!

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Much more from Ron Irwin at: www.ronirwin.net. Looking is always free.