When ordinary men become extraordinary
First of all, a hat-tip to Clint Eastwood, who, at age 88 continues to make films, and always finds unusual stories to tell, in his own spare and straightforward way, concentrating on characters rather than technology. For his latest, The 15:17 to Paris, he has picked a real incident of heroism, and to enhance it further has cast the actual men involved instead of getting actors to play them. Luckily, for him and the audiences, all three are strapping good-looking young men, who may not have any acting chops, but bring to the film their unvarnished earnestness.
The problem is that their act of bringing down a gun-toting terrorist in a train (the title refers to the time the train left Amsterdam Station for Paris), runs for a few minutes, so how can a feature-length film be made on it? Working with a book authored by the three — Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler — and a rather prosaic script by Dorothy Blyskal, Eastwood goes back to their childhood and adolescence and what their lives were like till they got on that train.
As kids, Spencer and Alek (played by child actors William Jennings and Bryce Gheisar) are raised by single mothers (Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer). The third, Anthony (Paul-Mikel Williams) is black, which brings the requisite diversity to the film. They are energetic kids, getting into trouble at school and playing war games in the woods — Eastwood clearly has no problem with guns.
When they grow up, Spencer (after a stint of cluelessness) joins the Air Force, Alek is with the National Guard and Anthony is a student; they decide to spend the summer backpacking in Europe. There’s much drama during their travels, till they board the train.
The armed terrorist Ayoub (Ray Corasini) emerges and shoots a passenger, when Spencer, with amazing courage runs straight up to him. His friends help tie him up and despite being wounded himself, Spencer saves the life of the other passenger.
They reach Paris (and that’s no spoiler), where French president Francois Hollande praises their bravery and honours them with the Legion of Honor — this sequence using some real footage too. This kind of realism is all very well, but sometimes a story needs to be spiced up just a little bit to make it enjoyable on screen. The film is watchable mainly because of Eastwood’s clever casting — it proves to the audience that in a moment of crisis, even ordinary people can be heroic.