“The 15:17 to Paris”: the three American heroes at the Thalys Train Attack star in their own film on their own book

Clint Eastwood’s new film, “The 15:17 to Paris”, based on the collaborative autobiographical book by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Jeffrey Stein, “The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes”, adopted for screen by Blyskal, tells the story of the 2015 Thalys Train Attack from the viewpoint of the three soldiers, who act in the film.  This itself is remarkable.  All three now are recognized as film professionals in Hollywood. Wikipedia documents Skarlatos as an Army National Guard soldier and Stone as a former airman.  Stone was somewhat injured in the attack, but more seriously wounded in a civilian incident in California in 2015, but fully recovered from both.

The film starts by showing Ayoub El Khazzani (Ray Corasani) boarding the train due to leave Amsterdam station at 15:17 and preparing his weapon and soon the attack starts. The film then shifts to the backstories of the three friends who wrote the book and who played the most critical roles in stopping the attack. At first, I was not sure that this presentation style would be particularly effective, because the attack seemed to proceed so quickly. But the violent section, near the end of the film, depicts the time that it took the three young men (and a few other passengers from France and Britain, one badly wounded) to stop the attack runs about fifteen minutes, until the train reaches a station in northern France and the police arrive.

The three young men were boyhood friends in Sacramento, CA, in a Christian parochial school.  The movie has a prescient scene where a history teacher asks everyone if they would know what to do in a real emergency. The film shows the practical problems of enforcing discipline for teachers and principal (something I had issues with when I worked as a substitute teacher in a public school system from 2004-2007). The film tends to emphasize the problems of Stone the most, raised by a divorced mom and he seems to have serious hyperactivity and ADHD.  But he does a generous heart and likes to help and rescue people. The film skips ten years.  He is shown overweight (Jeffrey would have had to regain the weight to make the film) and works out to shape up. He joins the Air Force with the idea of becoming the equivalent of a green beret, but “fails” some of the vision test. He winds up in medic training, and disturbs Air Force instructors with unusual reactions when there is a false alarm at an Air Force base in Houston. But, ironically, it turns out that his emphatic instincts may have saved everyone later on the train.

Skarlatos (who “restrained” the suspect)  is shown serving in Afghanistan by Skype. He presents himself as an extremely stable person, and  with probably the most impressive physical appearance of the three.  I know a young man who looks (and behaves) a lot like him and is about 6-6 (“College Hunks” size) but who I believe is in grad school rather than playing pro sports (which is what you would expect from appearances).  In the film, Sadler, the African-American, seems to be the geekiest, going past any stereotypes.

In August 2015 the friends get together and sightsee Italy, with impressive photography of the Coliseum in Rome and then of Venice.  Then they go to Berlin and are shown the location of Hitler’s final bunker on a bicycle tour. Curiously, Berlin isn’t listed as a filming location (the indoor scenes were shot in Georgia) but some of the scenes looked like Berlin, which I visited in May 1999. They visit at least two bars.  The first seems familiar from my visit (it might be in Amsterdam), and the second is a wild disco.  In fact, in Berlin I visited two gay bars. One had a lounge where patrons were entertained by a friendly cat who would sit in their laps. The second was the Connection Disco, which had a mock concentration camp in the basement (which might seem in bad taste).  I remember meeting a graduate student there who had grown up in East Germany.

The young men apparently traveled to Amsterdam from Berlin without incident (I’ve done that flight myself – when I went in 1999 and 2001 I effectively had air passes rather than Eurailpass, which offers first class).  They then board the train in Amsterdam, and find the first class section. The film shows many shots of the Belgian or northern French countryside with windmills.  Then the event happens.

One detail is that Ayoub’s rifle jammed as Stone charged him (at least as the film shows it).  That seems incredibly lucky for Stone and all the passengers.  Apparently Ayoub claims (as a defendant waiting trial in France) that he only intended to rob passengers and was not a terrorist, but if he didn’t pay, how did he sneak onto the train and get past the conductor.?  Just hiding in the restroom?

In May, 2001, I took the Chunnel train (shown in Tom Cruise’s “Mission Impossible”, 1996) from Paris to London   I remember we did have to go through security to get on that train (months before 9/11). At the time, I recall that foot and mouth disease was a big controversy. When I returned back to the Continent, I took a different Chunnel train to Brussels station (shown in the film) , and I recall clowns performing in the station.  The Amsterdam station is interesting in that it is only about ten miles from the airport, and when you fly to Schiphol you take a double-decker orange and blue train to the station.

Again, it’s interesting that the three young men launched film careers after the incident. They would easily fit into casting of my screenplay “Epiphany” with material from my three DADT books, if it ever got “money” ($30 million would help – that’s what this film cost).

Amsterdam Central Station, wiki.

Name:  “The 15:17 to Paris”
Director, writer: Clint Eastwood, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler
Released:  2018/2/9
Format:  2.39:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax Va., 2018/2/10, Sat. afternoon, fair crowd
Length:  94
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Warner Brothers, Village Roadshow
Link:  official 
Stars: 4/5  ****-     ($30 million cost)

(Posted: Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 7:30 PM EST)