The 15:17 to Paris, directed by Clint Eastwood and based on the memoir The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos, is a film that brings three lifelong friends through trials and tribulations that culminate in a situation of chaos in which they must thwart a terrorist attack aboard a cross-country train through Europe. Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos all portray themselves in the ordeal, and bring a sense of realism to the movie.
The film begins chronicling the relationship between the three main characters, all outcasts in a Catholic middle school who find solace with each other playing Airsoft in the woods of California and recreating battle strategy from major skirmishes during Word War 2. After being forced to separate because of school choice and a change of parental custody, the three keep a bond through high school. After Stone and Sadler join the military, the three decide to take a backpacking trip through Europe and hit as many sites as possible. Splicing their pasts with their present, the film comes to a climax when they leave Amsterdam to get to Paris, France, their last stop on the route.
While aboard the train, the group happens to be in the midst of an attempted attack by an ISIS insurgent. After the terrorist shoots a passenger who tries to stop him, the group begins to rally against him, using their own skills to prevent further injury.
The film is very well directed, and is intense throughout. The main characters are likable and believable, and the viewer is rooting for them whether they are in a dance club in Amsterdam, a hostel in Italy, or especially protecting the people around them against a person who only wants to destroy any sense of security around people trying to enjoy a sightseeing trip.
Spencer Stone is the most prominently featured member of the group, and the film chronicles his transformation from a chubby adolescent war buff to a seasoned Air Force man. Alek Skarlatos is the quiet muscle, nicknamed “The Robot,” who never falters and does not back down from any sort of altercation. Anthony Sadler, who on a whim goes to visit his friends, becomes an irreplaceable part of the team.
The supporting cast of the film is also great. Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer, who play Stone’s and Skarlatos’ mothers respectively, although known for their comedy chops deliver great performances. Thomas Lennon as Principal Akers and Tony Hale as physical education teacher Coach Murray, also deliver in comedic yet defining roles in the main characters’ adolescence. The children who portray the main characters at a young age, William Jennings as Spencer Stone, Bryce Gheisar as Alek Skarlatos, and Paul-Mikel Williams as Anthony Sadler, also deliver great performances. The fact that the protagonists portray themselves is something that is not often seen, and it is obvious that the three are not seasoned actors, which is understandable. That vulnerability brings some uncomfortable scenes to the film, but it also makes for an interesting dynamic to a very recent historic event.
The film’s theme is that every person’s destiny is molded by the obstacles that they face. It is an uplifting film that shows that it doesn’t matter what country a person is from or what they believe, if people band together, any hurdle can be overcome. Although the film seems predictable throughout, it is factually accurate for the most part, and definitely worth the watch.