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15:17 to Paris

Real-life heroes Spencer Stone, left, and Alek Skarlatos play themselves in the movie "The 15:17 to Paris." 

As a movie, “The 15:17 to Paris” may be lacking in some respects.

But as a Clint Eastwood experiment, and a sincere tribute to the heroism of the three men involved, it succeeds with its earnestness.

The real heroes were involved in preventing a tragedy in 2015 on a high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris

The film casts the actual American heroes as themselves. We saw this same kind of casting to good effect in the 2012 “Act of Valor,” a movie that featured real-life Navy Seals.

Eastwood starts the story with the childhood years of the three men. In Spencer Stone’s boyhood bedroom, we see posters that indicate a kid who probably longs to be a soldier — there’s a poster for the Eastwood-directed “Letters from Iwo Jima” on his wall.

I like the way the three boys — Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos —befriend each other, get into trouble at school together and indulge in paintball “warfare.”

Later on, it’s Stone, playing himself, who becomes the film’s core. He wants more than anything to do something with his life, and enlists in the military, only to have his hopes dashed. It seems that he simply doesn’t seem to have the discipline to succeed.

Eastwood emphasizes Stone’s disappointments, which makes us root for him all the more.

Stone maintains his friendships with Sadler and Skarlatos, and eventually they end up traveling together. Along the way, Stone has a sort of premonition. “Ever feel like life is catapulting you toward something?” he asks Sadler during their journey. And Skaratos’ mom also has a premonition that she shares with her son not long before the attempted attack

All the way through, Eastwood’s real-life heroes re-enact what led to their departure on the train, and then the attack itself.

Several things surprised me. First, although the lead performers aren’t professional actors, Eastwood directs them so well you won’t mind most of the time. Sadler, in particular, has a friendly, engaging screen presence.

Second, I was surprised at how Eastwood’s sincere admiration for the trio is present in every scene. He wants the audience to like them as much as he does.

And third, I was surprised at how *quiet* the thwarted attack is.

What didn’t surprise me is that Eastwood tackled such an out-of-the-ordinary project. At the age of 87, he continues to evolve as a filmmaker.

This may not be his finest film, although it’s certainly among the most interesting. And it’s certainly worth watching, with the most compelling scene shown as the credits roll.

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