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Blu-ray Review: The 15:17 to Paris

May 23, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest from director Clint Eastwood, The 15:17 to Paris recounts the true story of how Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler fearlessly stopped Ayoub El Khazzani (Ray Corasani), who was armed with guns, knives and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, from carrying out a terrorist attack onboard a train bound for Paris on August 21st, 2015.

The twist here is that the three men play themselves, and they are joined in the cast by many of the passengers who were really on that train, leading to a dramatic recreation of the stunning moments when Stone ran towards the barrel of El Khazzani’s AK-47, and the three of them successfully disarmed him.

The film follows them from their childhood in Sacramento, showing Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler as three restless kids (played by William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar and Paul-Mikél Williams, respectively) who first bonded over their shared trips to the principal’s office for being troublemakers.  Stone and Skarlatos decided to pursue careers in the military, before finally reuniting for a summer backpacking trip through Europe, that put them on the train to Paris.

A good chunk of the film’s second half depicts this trip through Europe, and these scenes play with a fascinating neorealist quality to them, building up quiet suspense as their trip progresses and they talk about whether or not they should even go to Paris, following a wild night in Amsterdam.  The attempted terror attack is shown in flash-forwards throughout the film, before it finally unfolds in full, presented in harrowing detail that doesn’t embellish for cinematic effect and merely allows it to play out as close to how it really happened as possible.

I had heard some mixed things about The 15:17 to Paris before watching it, but I actually found myself quite taken by the film.  This is not only a stirring recreation of what unfolded on that train, but also a moving and inspiring look at real people who were put in an impossible situation and were able to spring into action and do the right thing, making a split second decision to risk their own lives in order to save countless others.  It’s a unique film in its approach, taking risks that I think deserve to be applauded, and made all the more powerful by the fact that the real people are playing themselves.  Despite the fact that the three leads are inexperienced actors, they do a good job of carrying the film, and bring a naturalistic quality to it.

The film has an experimental feel to it, and often unfolds with a minimalistic quality that I wasn’t quite expecting.  The most interesting thing about the film is how low-key much of the drama is, which really helps drive home the fact that these were just ordinary people who, as fate would have it, ended up being put in the right place at the right time and did an extraordinary thing when in a situation that called for it.  It’s a fascinating approach to telling this sort of story, as much a quiet character drama about three friends growing up together as it is a portrait of real life heroism.

Spencer Stone talks about having this feeling like they were put on this earth to serve a higher purpose, and that God was leading them towards this moment.  If they hadn’t been on that train, and if they hadn’t been sitting where they were seated, hundreds of people could have died.  But spurred on by their religious faith and a strong drive to help those in need, they were able to miraculously thwart this terrorist attack and minimize the injuries.  As a celebration of human bravery in the face of unspeakable terror, The 15:17 to Paris is an engaging and very effective film.

The Blu-ray also includes the two featurettes Making Every Second Count, which features the real life subjects recounting what happened on the train alongside clips from the film; and Portrait of Courage, which looks at the making of the film and Clint Eastwood’s decision to have the real people portray themselves, a gutsy choice that paid off really well.

The 15:17 to Paris is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release.  It’s 94 minutes and rated 14A.

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