First Hit: Absolutely dull and uninspiring until the very end.
This film intersperses quick flashes of the dramatic event of these three men thwarting a terrorist attack on a train to keep you in your seat. If they didn’t most people would walk out of this uninspired effort by Clint Eastwood.
My first turn-off was when a grade school teacher for two of the featured young men stated to the mothers, "your children have ADD and they need drugs." The retort as Spencer and Alek's mothers storm out of the meeting was “my God is bigger than your statistics.” Are you kidding me? This is how Eastwood ends a dramatic scene?
One of Eastwood’s biggest mistakes is having the actual hero’s play themselves in this film. They had actors portraying them as young boys (ages 11 – 14), but as adults the stilted acting, insipid dialogue, and poorly created scenes made this film drag on and on and on.
We experience Alek Skarlatos (played by himself and Bryce Gheisar), Anthony Sadler (himself and Paul-Mikel Williams), and Spencer Stone (himself and William Jennings) when they met at a grade school, how their initial friendship developed in Sacramento, and vaguely how it lasted through the years till we see them together again traveling through Europe.
The early years are OK in that there are scenes that give the audience cause to believe these boys supported each other because they were all misfits in some way. I was saddened to see how their playing together was focused on gun play, with realistic paint (and one real) guns that looked like an AK and a M-16.
There is a bent in this film about God and Christian religion although we don’t see them in church. The extent of their faith seems to be praying for something to happen or for things to be different.
Finally, they go to Europe but there is only some background on Spencer because we follow him failing through several military job trainings. However, these failings were a precursor to him actually learning stuff along the way; then using this knowledge to make a difference later on. There was virtually no history about Anthony as to what he was doing prior to going to Europe with Spencer. And there wasn’t much about Alek who was fighting in Iraq and mistakenly left his back-pack at a village. What was this about?
Arriving in Europe Spencer and Anthony, awkwardly travel from place to place. At one point they meet a young asian woman, they go a couple places together but a couple scenes later she's gone. What was this about? They finally get to Germany and meet up with Alek who was staying with a German exchange student.
Getting on the 15:17 train to Paris, they disarm a terrorist and save the life of a man shot by the terrorist. Then they get honored by the French government and all is right with their lives. This is the crux of the film.
Because Eastwood used the real men to portray an actual event, their lack of acting abilities and the way Eastwood works was a mistake. The men cannot project into the camera thereby making it feel real to the audience. Adding to this mistake was Eastwood’s penchant to only do one or two takes, and with real actors they can deliver something good, non-actors generally cannot. The film comes off as amateurish.
The storyline was haphazard, felt thrown together, and despite being Christian based, had little meat on the bones.
The best acting job in this film was Paul-Mikel Williams as young Anthony. Judy Greer as Spencer’s mom Joyce was OK. The acting by the real men was obviously poor which took away from their own heroic story. Kudos for their actions against the terrorist but I’m not sure this story was film material as it was presented. Dorothy Blyskal wrote a horrible screenplay and Director Eastwood failed in all cases to deliver something interesting until the very end when the terrorist tried to take over the train car.
Overall: This film will more than likely be the worst film I see this year, if not it will be close and it’s only February.