'15:17 to Paris' earns 8 golden spikes from Trains

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NEW YORK — It takes about an hour and a half on the Acela Express from New York City to Wilmington, Del. In that time you can watch “The 15:17 to Paris” that includes 20 minutes of video on the Thalys between Amsterdam and Paris. The real events of that film occurred on Thalys No. 9134 between those European cities on Aug. 21, 2015.

Based on true events, director and producer Clint Eastwood chose the book of the same name by Anthony Sadler; former Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlotos; former U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone; and Jeffrey E. Steinas the basis for this production. The screenplay, based on the book, written by Dorothy Blyskal, treats the first three men not as superheroes or god-like creatures, instead making them believable friends. Eastwood spins how their friendship saved more than 500 passengers on the train that day in a credible manner.

The movie really begins in Sacramento where Alek Skarlotos and Spencer Stone meet in elementary school; far from being the best and brightest in their classes, they are both from single-parent homes. A school official deems them inattentive and suggests education elsewhere.

The next school year finds them in a Catholic middle school, where they meet Anthony Sadler and bond with him. All three develop a penchant for things military. One history teacher made them interested in past events, and military history became their passion. The well-cast child actors, William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar and Paul-Mikel Williams play the three as children, and Jenna Fischer (“The Office”) and Pam Greer (“War for the Planet of the Apes”) are cast as Heidi Skarlotos and Joyce Spencer respectively, mothers of two of the three boys.

Fast forward to 2015: Anthony, still a close friend, is a student at California State University in Sacramento, Alek describes himself as a “mall cop” in Afghanistan, and Spencer is training to be training to be a medic at an Air Force base in Texas. The three decide to reunite for a visit in Europe, ending up at Central Station in Amsterdam for what was to be a pleasant 3 hour and 48 minute trip to Paris.

The 20 minutes of the train scenes resonate to all of us who love trains. While recent train movies, “The Commuter” and “Murder on the Orient Express” suffered in part from forsaking actual steel rails for the wonders of train travel, this film rings truer to form than many other rail-based films. Eastwood then did something even better: The actual filming of the train scenes were done on real Thalys trains, five different ones at speed, while Thalys International paid more than $70,000 to French Rail for 11 dispatching slots to insure that the filming could be as realistic as possible. Station scenes in Amsterdam and Brussels were not sets, they were the actual departure platforms. Thalys International, jointly owned by French Rail, Belgian Rail, and Deutsche Bahn could have been a deal breaker unwilling to help the moviemakers, instead they were a huge part of the production as two members of their onboard train staff that day were injured; the parent company wanted the movie to be correct.

Filming on-board, at the stations, and aerial photography, all done during the late European summer were breathtaking. The trains themselves looked like they were in service on film, which they were.

In keeping with realism, the final train scene takes place as the train arrives in Arras, France, to evacuate the passengers. Waiting at the platform for the arriving train were France Rail police and paramedics; it was doubtful that that these cast members were actors. They seemed like real public responders.

Rather than dwell on what happened inside the train, you will need to watch it at the theater. The film is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for bloody images, violence, and other adult themes with the first two items vividly happening on the train. Religion and political doctrine unfold as part of the plot, but not annoyingly so. The core of the movie was worth watching as events unfold on a real train at speeds up to 180 mph.

Three days after the event, the three men received the award of The Legion of Honor presented by then-French President Francois Hollande, as the film portrays.

The producer decided that he wanted the three that saved the passengers for this movie after seeing them on a TV awards show. Eastwood's insight made this a much better movie than it could have been. As new actors, they provided a real feel to this production that most motion pictures lack.

While not a film about an American event, it will make you happy to be an American, regardless of your personal ideology. Enjoy this well-produced, well-directed movie from a master who can interpret tales far better than most. Worth 8 “Golden Spikes” for affinity to rail operation details, and portrayal of train crews reacting to a unique on-board emergency.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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