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Courage beyond the call of duty


The 15:17 to Paris (2018) directed by Clint Eastwood

This is not a great movie, but you should watch it. It is a story about courage, bravery, destiny and three men willing to sacrifice their lives for others.

In the early evening of August 21, 2015, a terrorist attack was about to take place on a train from Amsterdam to Paris. It was thwarted by three courageous young Americans travelling through Europe. The film follows the course of the friends’ lives, from the struggles of childhood through finding their footing in life to the series of unlikely events leading up to the attack.

The heroic trio were Anthony Sadler, Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and US Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone, who play themselves in the film. All three were awarded the Legion of Honour, the highest French order for military and civil merits for their bravery in preventing what would have been yet another horrific terrorist attack on European soil.

I say it is not a great film because the crucial action on the train takes up only a short time. Director Clint Eastwood is far more interested in exploring how these men came to be on that train at that time. It is strongly hinted that they were placed there by God, or at least fate. All three men have been described as sharing ‘a deeply religious background and a belief in service to their community’.

Two of the men were brought up by single mothers. Eastwood does not think much of a US public school system that cannot handle a couple of boisterous boys. When their teacher offers to put the youngsters on Ritalin, their mothers pull them out and send them to a Christian private school.

The school does not solve all their problems but eventually Skarlatos and Stone enter the military. This clearly shapes them although they face challenges.

With their childhood friend Sadler, they go on a trip through Europe. On August 21, 2015, the men find themselves on Thalys train 9364 from Amsterdam.

A 25-year-old Moroccan man, Ayoub El-Khazzani, is in carriage 12, armed with an AKM assault rifle and 270 rounds of ammunition. He proceeds down the carriage with the loaded AKM, while several people fail to stop him.

Stone tackles the armed suspect, being stabbed in the neck, face and hand. Skarlatos seizes the assailant’s rifle, beating him in the head with it until he is unconscious.

Although it takes a while to get there, it is a heart-stopping moment in the film. Stone knows he could be facing death, but he never flinches and lunges towards the armed man without hesitation.

It did not surprise me that it took Americans with military discipline to stop the terrorist, although others had tried. Would young European men show the same kind of courage? It is hard to say. This was yet another display of that horrid ‘toxic masculinity’ we hear so much about.

There are other small moments in the film I really liked, such as the pride of the mothers when their sons receive the Legion of Honour. The film depicts the boys praying, something that is almost never shown in Hollywood movies unless it is to be mocked.

When it came to the crunch these Christian men, with a ‘belief in service to their community’ that was so strong they joined the military, displayed courage that was beyond the call of duty.

When you get sick of all the bad news, take an hour out and watch this movie. It is not minute-by-minute entertainment but it is inspiring.

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