Real life heroes turned-movie stars

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Alek Skarlatos as Alek, Anthony Sadler as Anthony, and Spencer Stone as Spencer, in “The 5:17 to Paris”. He could’ve killed 300 people, easy. “Not being afraid to try certain things has given me a lot of freedom in my life, and I think that’s a very important takeaway for everyone here and everyone who watches the movie”. Four people were injured on the 15:17 to Paris. Alek and Spencer, whose mothers (Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer) are friends, pull their sons out of public school and enroll them in a Christian academy, where they meet Anthony, a regular visitor to the principal’s office.

His latest film, the true-life The 15:17 to Paris, features not only the story of three childhood friends from California who travel across Europe together and end up on a Paris-bound, high-speed train that becomes the target of a terrorist attack, but he also cast the same three young Americans (two of whom were in the military at the time) to play themselves in the movie. “I turn around and see the terrorist coming into the train vehicle, picking the AK-47 off the ground and lowering a round into the chamber”, Spencer Stone, plays self in 15:17 to Paris, said. But the friends who play themselves in Clint Eastwood’s retelling of the drama could not impress the critics when the movie opened in France on Wednesday. We don’t want to disappoint. Going one step further, the characters in question are in fact played by the same people who were involved in the real life incident. Many more real-life figures have popped up in small cameos in film versions of their stories. “We were a little hesitant”.

“Besides, everybody knocks out a flop every now and then”, Eastwood adds wryly.

Interestingly, preteen Stone keeps a poster of Clint Eastwood’s Letter from Iwo Jima on his bedroom wall. It offered a revealing look back at the media frenzy and investigation that ensued after that January day.

They said El-Khazzani boarded the train with a Kalashnikov rifle, pistol and box cutter – in a story tailor-made for Eastwood’s fascination with real-life modern heroes.

At the screening I attended, the audience applauded when the credits rolled, but more, it seems, to honor the men who risked their own lives to save the lives of others than this awkward, flat-footed attempt to re-create their bravery.

Once we get to the second act, the film is mercifully much better. “Sometimes when you get a good idea, you have to take it”.

On a recent afternoon, Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler – who are all 25 – sat in a hotel lobby in Burbank after a taping of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, trying to wrap their heads around this surreal turn of events.

The casting proved even more powerful when the director restaged the fateful attack on the same French train line. Stone’s military career is particularly confusing – at one point I thought he was thrown out of basic training for bad sewing – while Skarlatos’s is unexplored: one moment he’s not in the film; next he’s serving in Afghanistan; and then he joins his buddies in Europe.

Blyskal’s script displays no ear for free-flowing, believable banter except for one throwaway scene when the friends publicly challenge a Berlin tour guide’s commentary, arguing that the arrival of USA troops was a deciding factor in Hitler’s demise.

The other issue with the film is how it sensationalises Islamic terrorists – and while they are the scum of the universe, portraying them as those being vanquished by American valor is unsubtle, jingoistic showboating.

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Go ahead, make Clint Eastwood’s day. Eastwood stages the climactic confrontation with a taut sense of intimacy and urgency, making the hour-plus that precedes it feel mostly like a meandering waste of time. “And these three fellas have”.

The 15:17 to Paris review: Casting real world heroes as themselves is the weirdest thing Clint Eastwood's done since

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