Patriots Day (2016) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use
Running Time: 133 min.
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, John Goodman, Themo Melikidze, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Beach, Melissa Benoist, Jimmy O. Yang
Director: Peter Berg
Screenplay: Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer
Review published January 20, 2017
Bringing us back not so long ago to the fateful 2013 Boston Marathon comes Patriots Day, a thriller-oriented re-enactment of the events that transpired, with some embellishments to help the project commercially. One of those embellishments comes in the form of the fictional/composite main character himself, a police detective named Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg, Daddy's Home), who gets the unenviable duty of putting his "school crossing guard" uniform on in order to work the finish line of the Marathon, keeping people in order and the event running smoothly.
Saunders turns out to be one of the right guys at the right time, as two bombs explode in the area, causing him to help save as many victims as he can. Chaos erupts, but he keeps his cool, making sure people get the medical attention they need, at least until the FBI arrives in an anti-terrorist task force that Saunders also ends up assisting in order to help catch the perpetrators of the bombings in a manhunt that extends over the next few days.
Those perpetrators, we learn from the start of the film, are two brothers named Tamerlan (Melikidze, 21st Century Shuffle) and Dzokhar (Wolff, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2) Tsarnaev, and once their identities are picked out using a variety of surveillance cameras in the area of the crime, and all-out citywide manhunt is on to catch these terrorists, hopefully before they succeed in their plans to do even more death and destruction.
Those who followed the very well covered and reported event will obviously know where things are going all along, though this dramatization does do a remarkable job in making us feel like we're right in the middle of the action all along the way, making the film feel like much more than a checklist of important events that transpired during those harrowing days in Boston.
Patriots Day is directed by Peter Berg, reuniting with star Mark Wahlberg for the third time (their first pairing being Lone Survivor), and their second within the last half of 2016 alone (after Deepwater Horizon). Berg does a remarkable job in infusing deep-rooted characterizations into his characters, as well as drawing out plausible motivations among them to tie up the film together to be both believable as well as suspenseful.
Though the film is based on true events, Berg manages to get in a few big, briskly paced set pieces, not only in the bombing, but also in the carjacking scene involving a Chinese immigrant named Dun Meng (Yang, "Broken"), as well as a major showdown involving the cops and the Tsarnaev brothers in a residential area in Watertown. Even an interrogation scene involving a shadowy special task force against Tamerlan's wife, Katherine Russell (Benoist, Band of Robbers), crackles with a certain mystery and excitement.
One thing that seems missing, despite a great deal of time afforded to following the Tsarnaev brothers, is a clear motivation for doing what they did. We do see them watching terrorist propaganda videos from dubious websites and discussing possible religious/spiritual rewards for their actions, but Berg's approach to them just seems to be that these two guys are mentally ill, and they're just crazy, amoral guys who tend to do crazy things. Not that a sympathetic approach is warranted, but given the level of access and insight we are afforded to so much of the rest of the film from a crime reenactment standpoint, the lack of impetus to drive the criminals beyond the point where they should just lay low for a while seem a sizable omission, especially how much time and care they took in preparing for the bombing.
Despite the composite characterization, Wahlberg does deliver good work as an actor, and is imbued with enough personality taits and history to buy as a real person, even though he's not based on any specific one. It may strain credibility to see him turn up at every major hot-spot, but if you're willing to overlook that conceit, you'll be rewarded with a riveting and tension filled recounting of a harrowing day in Boston's, and indeed America's, history with terrorism.
While the "fight back hate with love" angle may seem a stretch given that the only way to stop these terrorists is with more guns, bullets, and bloodshed, there is a sweet element to Berg's approach that suggests that communities truly do come together in times of need to fight back against common evils like what the Tsarnaev brothers brought to Boston that day. As for the rest, Berg approaches the events without overt political commentary, choosing to concentrate more on the heroism and the heartbreak caused by the actions of the attackers, as well as how the community came together in a crisis, putting down any divides they may personally have in order to save their family, friends and neighbors from further harm.
The film ends with powerfully emotional examples of real-life some of the bombing victims and law enforcement officers attempting to persevere through tragedy, some even participating in that very marathon they may have been just spectators for, and caps off an effective docudrama thriller with the kind of pathos necessary to stave off assertions of tragedy exploitation. Whether fictional or represented by top-notch Hollywood actors, there's nothing more affecting than watching the real people relive Patriots Day on the screen with their perseverance through darker times to regain a passion for life.
©2017 Vince Leo