Call it a cinema veri-test.
By casting the actual American heroes who foiled a terrorist attack to play themselves in The 15:17 to Paris, director Clint Eastwood tapped into an unprecedented level of realism for a drama.
The three childhood friends former U.S. Airforce Airman First Class Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler certainly deserve to be celebrated like movie stars for the bravery and selflessness they exhibited when their European vacation was interrupted in horrific fashion on Aug. 21, 2015.
Thats when Stone was injured tackling and disarming an assault rifle-toting gunman before he could open fire on the terrified passengers. And if that wasnt dramatic enough, Stone ignored his own slash wounds to administer life-saving medical aid to the lone passenger who was shot. The climax of The 15:17 to Paris recreates the event in hyper-realistic detail with the very people involved. Eastwood even got the gunshot victim who nearly died, Mark Moogalian, to play himself.
The sequence is among the most exciting moments captured on screen in recent memory. But that still leaves the vast majority of the films 94-minute run time to fill. And most of it sure feels like padding.
Screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal takes the story all the way back to when the trio first met as middle school students, through their respective starts in the military and into the first few stops of their backpacking travels through Europe. For the most part its about as interesting as watching strangers’ home movies.
A sequence showing Skarlatos tour of duty in Afghanistan, for example, involves a lost backpack that is eventually recovered without any problem. Stone and Sadler meet a woman while touring Venice, they have lunch together, and then she goes off on her way. Not exactly some of the most exciting moments captured on screen in recent memory.
The three heroes may now be movie stars, but theyre not yet actors. They were not helped by heavy-handed dialogue like, Do you ever feel like life is pushing us toward something, some greater purpose?
Eastwood faced similar issues with his last film, Sully, and he still hasnt figured out how to take a relatively short dramatic event and build a movie around it. It helped to have Tom Hanks in the cockpit.
This time around its all put on the broad shoulders of Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler. And thats a lot to ask, even of the type of guys who fearlessly run toward danger.