Eastwood takes the bold step of casting real-life heroes, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone, to play themselves in the film about their heroics in a train heading from Amsterdam to Paris. This dialogue between Eastwood's own iconography, and that of the military and America and the very notion of heroism, is precisely what makes The 15:17 To Paris a consummate work in Eastwood's filmography.
The trio - despite no prior acting experience or lessons - played themselves in the film, released this week, which shares the story of their friendship through childhood up to the 2015 train incident. They attend middle school together in Sacramento, get into scrapes, play around with airsoft weapons, and stay in touch into young adulthood. "You rarely have a moment in your life where you can say, 'This was God.' I think since then it's affirmed our faith just because we've had a moment where you can't deny (Him)". But all three made a decision to take time off from the military and college to backpack through Europe. Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos are all photogenic fellows and Stone in particular feels like a natural-born actor. A train employee started to intervene but fled upon realizing the attacker was armed. In between those flashes, we see Stone and Skarlatos make their unhurried way to joining the military.
For Stone having to shoot that train scene gave him some insights.
"Spoiler alert: I definitely lived", Stone joked.
All three men are not as wooden as you'd expect them to be, but they're also a long way from being comfortable and naturalistic on-screen.
These are regular people, like the majority of us out there, who get the gift of life and do the best we can with it, and maybe we get lucky.
They ended up in the train vehicle where they stopped the attack because they moved for better wireless internet access.
Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler ultimately managed to apprehend Khazzani, who was armed with almost 300 rounds of ammunition, after fighting him, leaving him unconscious. All 23 at the time, they said they were searching for fulfillment, like many young adults. They're obsessed with war as children; at one point, 13-year-old Skarlatos intones, "There's just something about war, man... the brotherhood!" like some sort of battle-scarred veteran. Eastwood stakes out a middle ground here between the exhausted notion that history is made by great men (or women), and the more despondently fatalistic idea that all events are determined by the grand motion of social and economic forces, in which the individual is incidental if not entirely irrelevant.
"It's like we were training our whole lives for that moment without even knowing about it", he said.
Even the fear of public speaking has withered away, Skarlatos said, as he addressed the audience. This is particularly true for Stone, who we spend most of our time with in the early sections, who we see questioning first aid techniques, thinking outside the box when his army base potentially comes under threat, and excelling in Jiu-Jitsu.
He added he hopes the movie serves as a vehicle to "spread the word of God".
"Hopefully this launches movie careers for all three of us", said Sadler. Moogalian and his wife also appear in "The 15:17 to Paris", as did another passenger, Chris Norman, who helped hold down Khazzani after the attack.