Compelling Patriots Day is Boston Strong
It’s Patriots Day, and Boston Detective Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), to get back in the good graces of his superiors, is patrolling the finish line of the Boston Marathon, keeping an eye on all of the V.I.P.s while also making sure all of his fellow officers are doing their assigned jobs. Things are going well, spirits are high and everyone is having a terrific time.
Without warning, an explosion rocks the finish line. Before anyone knows what is happening, another bomb goes off, and in the span of seconds Boston has been attacked, Tommy, his fellow officers, helpful bystanders and individuals running the race springing into action to assist all of those injured, bloodied and brutalized in this act of senseless violence.
In no time at all Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) are on the scene, as are the F.B.I. led by Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), the latter taking charge of the situation once the bombing is ruled an act of terrorism. Over the next 100-plus hours, Tommy finds himself involved in one of the largest manhunts in American history, all of them searching for a pair of bombers, brothers Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze), two young men who have deluded themselves into believing they’re actually going to get away with their cowardly crimes.
Director Peter Berg’s Patriots Day is a procedural that recounts the horrific April 15, 2013 events that took place during that year’s Boston Marathon as well as the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers that transpired over the ensuing four days. Much like his last two collaborations with Wahlberg, Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, the film is a fact-based thriller that tries to stay as close to actual events as it can even as it infuses its story with bits of fiction in order to augment its emotional dynamics. Exceedingly well made and cast, this film is consistently fascinating, building in resonance and power as things move along to their well-documented conclusion.
There’s a lot to love, not the least of which is the depiction of the bombing, Berg refusing to engage in cheap theatrics or sensationalism, allowing the inherent acts of selfless heroism of those on the scene to speak for themselves. There’s also a spectacular bit of recreation where DesLauriers’ team discovers video footage of Dzhokhar and then brings in Tommy to help them backtrack the bomber’s steps, each piece of detective work leading them another step closer to bringing the brothers to justice. I also liked a climactic sequence where Watertown Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) goes above and beyond to protect his fellow officers, cagily getting the drop on the Tsarnaevs in the heat of a frenetic and seemingly out of control late-night firefight.
But there’s a lot going on, and Berg and his cadre of screen and story writers, a group that includes not only himself but also Matt Cook (The Duel), Joshua Zetumer (Robocop), Paul Tamasy (The Finest Hours) and Eric Johnson (The Fighter), don’t always have a firm grasp on it all. They use the fictional character of Tommy Saunders and his relationship with his wife Carol (a wasted Michelle Monaghan) to wrap things around, but mostly he’s just there to deliver a couple of empowering speeches and not much else, and if not for Wahlberg’s commitment there’d be little interesting about the guy. Additionally, I’m not entirely sure what to make of the Tsarnaev brothers or of Tamerlan’s wife Katherine Russell (Melissa Benoist), the movie constantly wavering between trying to humanize the killers or to just paint them as one-dimensional monsters with no real plan.
Still, there’s plenty to applaud, not the least of which are examinations of two key characters, M.I.T. police officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking) and Chinese émigré Dun “Danny” Meng (Jimmy O. Yang). The former valiantly (and tragically) fought the Tsarnaevs when they attempted to steal his gun, while the latter managed to escape from the brothers after they carjacked him, his immediate contacting of the police allowing for the confrontation in Watertown and which led to Sgt. Pugliese’s heroics. The film humanizes both of these men in swift, invigorating brushstrokes, Picking and Yang infusing them with depth, grace and charm.
While not as visually resplendent as many of the director’s previous efforts, the technical virtuosity of the production is never in doubt. Cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (Mr. Holmes) gives things a suitably gritty documentary-like look I found captivating, while editors Gabriel Fleming (Deepwater Horizon) and Colby Parker Jr. (Ant-Man) do a superb job bringing all of the story’s disparate tangents together into a seamless whole. It all pulsates to frequent David Fincher collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ suitably unnerving score, and much like they did The Social Network and Gone Girl the pair once again craft a sonic landscape that fits things perfectly.
Berg is a good director, sometimes even a great one, but he doesn’t always feel the need to explore as deeply or as complexly as all the stories he chooses to tell might benefit all the greater from if he did. But as a tale of communal heroism, as a depiction of what law enforcement can do when the brightest and most dedicated do their jobs to the best of their respective abilities, on that front Patriots Days soars. The film, even with its shortcomings, is a strong reminder that terror and fear will continue to fail as long as everyday people stand up and fight for the rights of their neighbors to live their lives as they see fit, the greatest act of resistance nothing more complicated than that.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)