When the war film Act of Valor came out in 2012, the concept of real-life heroes portraying themselves was unique and thrilling. Audiences watched active-duty U.S. Navy SEALs perform in a completely original story centered around a team on a mission to rescue a kidnapped CIA agent. (Act of Valorwasn’t the first film to feature real veterans, either – WWII hero Audie Murphy starred in To Hell And Back, based on his own war memoir, in 1955.)
While the film was a box office smash and audience hit, the film wasn’t nearly as powerful as it might have been, even with the experimental casting. But Hollywood might get another chance at greatness with The 15:17 to Paris, based around the 2015 Thalys train attack.
Directed by Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Sully), the film tells the story of three passengers: vacationing American soldiers Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone, and their friend Anthony Sadler. The film follows their heroic effort in thwarting the efforts of an allegedly Islamist-connected man who sought to kill the passengers upon a Thalys train to Paris. The trio was among seven people who stepped up to subdue the gunman.
After searching through scores of potential choices to lead the film, nearly casting an actor for each central role, Eastwood eventually approached the real Skarlatos, Stone and Sadler to play themselves in the film. Let’s take a look at why this is the real-life hero story that Act of Valor couldn’t quite deliver.
Eastwood Has Great Respect For Veterans
Having served during the Korean War after being drafted into the army in 1951, Eastwood’s love for the military and its servicemen and women has been evident in his personal and professional lives. Eastwood has directed four previous war films, all of which have been critical darlings. Letters From Iwo Jima and Heartbreak Ridge (above) are particularly notable. Eastwood starred in the latter, as a Marine close to retirement who leads a platoon in the American invasion of the island of Grenada in 1983, and received rave reviews for his performance. With this much care given to films depicting the men and women protecting our country overseas, Eastwood is the perfect director for this story.
The Real People Are Fascinating
While the real people of Act of Valor were great to watch and showed signs of having intriguing personalities outside the film, the stories of the trio in 15:17 has become publicly known thanks to the book detailing their lives, and it is a marvel.
The three became friends after growing up together at Freedom Christian School in Fair Oaks, CA and remained close even as Skarlatos and Stone served in the Army and Air Force, respectively. Even their deep connection to their religion is admirable and central to their personalities as it drives them through their lives and, in addition to their beliefs about service to their community, kept them motivated during the attack on the train.
The True Story Is Important
The story of an Islamist attack is the sort of thing that stokes some peoples’ fears, and even helps divide people based on that fear. At its core, however, this is a great story of international cooperation. While the film clearly focuses on the three Americans in the event, there were four other passengers who worked to stop the gunman. Three of these were French; the fourth was a British citizen.
In a climate where even long-time relationships are changing, a film that highlights a key moment in recent history in which US and international citizens united to bring a horrific attack to an end is key to changing the mood.