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With: Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, P.J. Byrne, Thomas Lennon, Tony Hale
Written by: Dorothy Blyskal, based on a book by Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Jeffrey E. Stern
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: PG-13 on appeal for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language
Running Time: 94
Date: 02/09/2018

The 15:17 to Paris (2018)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Train Gang

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Clint Eastwood, the first half of this drama is uncomfortably slow and awkward, mainly due to the amateur acting; but once it finally gets going, Eastwood's skilled touch reveals itself.

In The 15:17 to Paris, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Anthony Sadler (the three real-life heroes play themselves) have been best friends since making trouble together in middle school in Sacramento. Alek and Spencer, serving in the military in Europe, convince Anthony to join them for a summer backpacking trip. They visit Germany and Italy, and then detour for a wild night in Amsterdam.

On the train to Paris the next day, a terrorist emerges from the bathroom with a rifle and some 300 rounds of ammunition. He manages to shoot a man before the three friends jump into action, taking out the terrorist, and then saving the life of the wounded man.

The 15:17 to Paris is not the first movie to cast non-actors in key roles (see Act of Valor) and it faces most of the same problems as they struggle through memorized dialogue. But one could almost argue that this is like a work of Italian Neorealism; indeed, Eastwood once worked with a pioneer of that movement, Vittorio De Sica, in a 1967 movie called The Witches.

It's true that the long, backstory stuff — especially our trio as middle school kids — is wince-inducing, and possibly unnecessary. But if viewers have patience until the Europe trip starts, it becomes relaxing and exciting. Then, the final stretch featuring the attack and the heroic act, is worth the trouble. Eastwood shows it all with his usual classical simplicity.

Usually in biopics (such as Eastwood's previous film, the terrific Sully), an epilogue shows footage of the real-life person or persons, and we're left to compare this to the performance of the actors we've just seen. In The 15:17 to Paris, it's the same faces; this may have been a re-creation, but there was no pretending.

Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release is of admirable quality, and the video especially looks good during the more interesting second half, the trip to Europe. It comes with a DVD and a digital copy, as well as two featurettes, one on the making of the film (about 12 minutes, with Eastwood in attendance), and one on the three heroes' real experiences (about 8 minutes).

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