The 15:17 to Paris recounts the dramatic events of 21 August 2015 when the three friends launched themselves at a man carrying an automatic AK47 and other weapons on a crowded train. During the ride, a man armed with an assault rifle opened fire on the unsuspecting passengers.
Despite that, the story of The 15:17 to Paris is undeniably a fascinating one, and Eastwood avoids the temptation of turning the event into a generic action movie (one that might have been more cinematic) with the decision to bring in the real people who took part in it.
After meeting the three men in their 20s at an awards show, Eastwood decided to make a film, but rather than casting actors, the Oscar-winning director called on the friends themselves. In fact, Skarlatos said, it's an acknowledgement of the fact that both he and Stone "literally grew up on (Eastwood's) movies". "Getting over the nerves of meeting someone like him, that's hard". While Akshay Kumar's recent output has been a chain of socially conscious dramas and Eastwood's films have, more often than not, celebrated the army, underneath their noble intentions, both their latest films are about one thing - huge icons of cinema displaying proud nationalism. "He can get down to anyone's level".
The 15:17 to Paris movie review: In this detached rendition of that train incident, lasting no more than minutes, the three "heroes" and friends come out as even more ordinary than intended. The soldiers - Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos - all play themselves in this movie version of the event.
For more film and television coverage, follow me on Twitter here. The trio insisted on being interviewed together, and each seemed comfortable speaking for the others.
"I wasn't really thinking about everyone else: I was just thinking about myself", says Stone.
"I'll never forget: One day between takes Clint Eastwood looks at me and he's like, 'Not a bad way to make a living, is it?'" Sadler said. "There isn't some special trait the three of us have". A struggle to restrain the gunman ensued, with Stone and Skarlatos instinctively deciding to charge at the assailant, and Sadler not far behind. We're not joking. How does it all pan out? They saved lives. They later co-wrote a book about their experiences and, long story short, Mr Eastwood wanted in.
"It wasn't traumatic at all", Sadler said. The three actors show potential (especially Alek, who previously competed on Dancing with the Stars).
And even though they're starring in a Clint Eastwood movie, it's not even their favorite Clint Eastwood movie.
Here's the kicker: the three American heroes are playing themselves here.
"So we kind of went with that for a while". It was not a traumatic experience for us because nobody died, first of all, and for us, only good things have come out of it. Or we could do it and risk it.
After the success of J Edgar, Clint Eastwood is back with yet another biographical. "It was too fascinating of an opportunity to turn down".
Sadler said he appreciates that the film doesn't depict the three friends as flawless. "And that's what we did".
Of course, one way for us to say thanks, and to encourage future films like it, is to buy a ticket and go see it.
"The odds are too astronomical for it to just be chance", Skarlatos said. On his first day, he recalls, he filmed a scene in Afghanistan that required him to rummage through a Humvee filled with rucksacks. His only friend is Alek Skarlatos, also living with a single mom (Jenna Fischer), who is equally protective of her son. "And it was all I could do to keep from laughing". I feel like Eastwood is attempting to make a point with these choices, but I'm at a loss to figure it out.
"It was a lot of fun honestly".
The attack itself was re-created over five days on a moving train travelling back and forth between Paris and Amsterdam. Because of that training, Stone was able to save the life of Mark Moogalian, another passenger on the train who was shot trying to stop the terrorist. The reason for their inclusion is obvious, and while while some exposition and back story is need for viewer empathy for scenes that are to come, it's so mind-numbingly tiresome that it's easy for the mind to wander as the drama plays out before you.
He adds, "It was like a big reunion, and it was great to act everything out again". All 23 at the time, they said they were searching for fulfillment, like many young adults. In Stone's words, they were "owning the life they had been given by God".