Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Anthony Sadler, former Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and former U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone’s European vacation began like any other, staying in hostels, partying with exciting locals, and seeing historic sights. However, their trip ended on a vastly different note. In the early evening hours of August 21, 2015 aboard a Thalys train bound for Paris, these three brave souls thwarted a terrorist attack. In a matter of minutes, these men became extraordinary heroes, saving the lives of all on board.
Since that time, they’ve been showered with the highest of honors, parades and medals. Now the icing on the cake comes courtesy of veteran director Clint Eastwood, whose film THE 15:17 TO PARIS lends this inspirational trio a cinematic platform of which to tell their harrowing tale. But if you ask these three, the most terrifying facet in this entire experience has been playing themselves in the movie of their life.
Sadler, at the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, shared that he was a little reluctant to play himself.
It seemed out of the realm of possibilities – so unheard of. So when Clint presented it to us, we said ‘Yes,’ of course, but then we went [takes deep breath], I don’t know. I don’t want to risk the success of our story – the picture – not having acted before.
He did eventually come around on the idea.
In hindsight, I’m glad he chose to do it this way because the picture needed that sense of authenticity.
We wanted nothing more than it just to be accurate – and that’s what it is. Especially the fight sequence. That’s what we really wanted to get right. It’s exactly to the ‘T’ what happened.
Meeting Eastwood was, as Stone described it, “weird.”
He told me he was going to put one of the projects he was currently working on, down, to do ours. I was like, ‘Dang.’
Skarlatos was like a sponge in this situation.
Honestly, every time we’re around him, we’re just trying to listen to everything he says. He doesn’t talk a lot on his own, but when he’s asked a question, or when he does talk to you, you really want to pay attention. He’s a man of few words, but everything he says is just horribly relevant – and so much wisdom.
I was watching him eat a sandwich to see how does he eat a sandwich [laughs].
Starring in “A Clint Eastwood Film” meant getting to know his easy-going style of direction – like surprise filming rehearsals and not doing many takes. Skarlatos said,
It took us a little bit to get used to it in the beginning. But by the second or third week, we were only getting three or four takes per scene, or per camera angle. It sped the process up a lot.
He doesn’t say ‘action’ or ‘cut.’
Stone quickly added,
No. He’ll say, ‘That’s enough.’ Or ‘don’t do that again.’
Sadler, not missing a beat, said,
Or ‘go ahead.’ You’ll look over at him and he has a very neutral face. Does he hate it? Does he love it? I can’t tell. It could be either/ or. If he’s moving on that means he got it. A lot of his crew has been working with him for twenty, thirty years. The crew were like our mini-coaches. They would come us and encourage us – or give us a tip about how he operates. Or a tip about previous movies and the big actors – like how Morgan Freeman is directed by Clint Eastwood. It was good to hear that information having no exposure before that.
As the train sequence is only a small portion of what helped to further cement their friendship, the narrative flashes back to them as kids, meeting for the first time and bonding over toy guns and mischievous activities. The real-life heroes were able to meet and spend time with their pint-sized counterparts. Skarlatos mentioned,
He was like talking to an adult. He was the smartest person I’ve ever met.
Sadler, too, praised the child actors’ skills.
They nailed our dynamic without having spent too much time around us. It was pretty spot-on.
The life-long friends were tasked with re-creating many of the same travel experiences they had that fateful Summer back in 2015. That said, nothing proved to be too traumatic to return to. Stone responded with a definitive “no,” but Sadler augmented, stating,
It’s unique in the way nobody died, so I think we have the advantage of that. It’s snowballed and blossomed into a blessing in our own lives, especially being cast in the roles of ourselves. It’s our responsibility to tell the story so people can draw positive themes in their own lives.
At the end of the day, these heroes are happy with the finished product, feeling the movie does a good job inspiring acts of heroism in regular folk.
The movie does a good job of showing how ordinary we are. Often times, in the headlines, they read, ‘Off duty servicemen stop terror attack,’ and they’re like, ‘Of course they would!’ It’s portrayed [in the press] that we’re like these combat veterans. The movie does a good job at showing that the three of us have not seen anything like that before. We’re just three young, ordinary kind of guys. It does a good job showing that anybody is capable of doing the extraordinary.
THE 15:17 TO PARIS opens on February 9.