Firsts thing first, let just give Clint Eastwood some praise for the ballsy decision to cast the real-life soldiers in his film; rather than hiring actors. It was this factor that was always going to make or break the film, they might be heroic soldiers, but could they act? Surprisingly they can, with Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos, being particularly good. However, that is where the positives end for this film. The first half an hour when the 3 men are children, is painfully hard to watch, with none of the child stars being at all likeable. Furthermore, there is some needless political and religious message shoved in for the what feels like the sake of it. This continues to be a problem throughout the film. The writing for this film often sets up a theme or plotline and then just moves on to the next one, never satisfyingly delivering on them, and all these subplots and anecdotal things just feel tacked on. What is the ultimate negative of this film, is the titular train is only about 15 minutes of the overall 1 hour, 30 minutes run time. Everything else that encompasses the other 1 hour and 15 minutes is glorified filler, that tries to establish the soldier’s lives and what motivates them but ultimately falls flat. In addition, it seems that Eastwood knows most of his film is filler as he foreshadows, (in almost a teasing way) the train journey throughout. This is shown when Spencer says “I feel like life is catapulting me towards something” about halfway through the runtime, they have a whole conversation about it, it’s the most blatant, badly used foreshadowing I’ve seen in quite some time. Another issue with the film is that a lot of the dialogue feels trite and unbelievable, this is again mainly presented in the section when they are children. The lines that particularly brought me out of it, were when the children were introducing each other by their last names, as well as an emotional scene where a young Spencer and Alek are saluting each other that just feels wrong and out of place. The film is really split into 3 parts when they are all children being the first, (which is damn near unwatchable, with Judy Greer performance as Joyce Eskel being it’s only saving grace). The other two were the trip around Europe that the 3 men were on, and then finally the train ride. Whilst the trip around Europe is well shot and to a degree enjoyable, it has an unmistakable feeling of filler and feels weirdly off base with what the rest of the film is about, and makes you question why Eastwood put it in. However, the final section when they’re on the train is where Eastwood shines, with it being an incredibly well shot, and having a very real, visceral, believable feel to it; that manages to capture the seriousness of the situation. It just as shame that this good sequence is only about 15 minutes of the film. Overall, I left questioning a lot of things, mainly whether this would have been better as a documentary rather than a feature film? Secondly why a lot of scenes has been included? Thirdly why the script rammed political and religious messages down your throat? If I had to point out the biggest issue the film has it would have to be the script, which was wildly, and I mean wildly all over the place, with some of the worst dialogue and foreshadowing, I’ve possibly seen in years. The only redeemable qualities the film has are, Judy Greer’s performance, the 3 soldiers were all convincing and performed well, and the final section of the film on the train is well-done and believable. To conclude I can’t suggest you go out and see this because it just has so many problems, and the only enjoyable part of the film is the last 15 minutes; that’s just a bad investment for your money.
Reviewed by Luke.