Patriots Day (2016)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Vincent Curatola, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Melissa Benoist, Khandi Alexander, Michael Beach, James Colby, Jimmy O. Yang, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea, Rhet Kidd, Jake Picking, David Ortiz.

Director: Peter Berg
Rating: R (for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use.)
Running Time: 133 Minutes
Release Date: December 21, 2016

Closest to the Hole Productions, CBS Films, and Lionsgate.

Written by: Peter Berg, Matt Cook, and Joshua Zetumer (screenplay); Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson (story); based in part on the book “Boston Strong: A City’s Triumph Over Tragedy” by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge.

OUR REVIEW:

Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg have apparently self-anointed themselves as the storytellers of recent acts of American heroism and tragedy. Although American Sniper ended up in the ledger of Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper, that Oscar-nominated film preceded by this duo’s 2013 film Lone Survivor, which told the story of Marcus Luttrell’s incredible survival and selfless actions during a failed attempt by our Navy SEALs to kill a Taliban leader during the War in Afghanistan in 2007.

Now within about three months of one another, Berg and Wahlberg have re-teamed to tell us the story of an oil rig tragedy in September 2016’s Deepwater Horizon and right before the Christmas holiday, the tale of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing in their Oscar hopeful Patriots Day. To be fair, subtlety is absent from the playbook of a Berg/Wahlberg collaboration, but Patriots Day offers something different – a police procedural housed within some good old fashioned American jingoism.

Which is not to say that the film is bad. In actuality, this is among the best of the three stories Berg and Wahlberg has brought to the big screen. The structure, however, is as innovative as a contemporary pop song. Wahlberg plays Boston PD detective Tommy Saunders, who works as security and patrol for the annual marathon race, despite a bum leg and a desire to not take the job.

Kevin Bacon, Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman in “Patriots Day” | Lionsgate

Because most of us are familiar with the story, we know that two Kyrgyzstani-American brothers arranged two pressure cooker bombs to detonate near the finish line of the 2013 incarnation of the iconic race. Three people died, 264 attendees injured. The brothers became part of a police manhunt, with one brother, Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze), killed by a combination of his brother running him over in an attempt to get away from police in a shootout, and bullet wounds sustained from being shot by police.

The Tsarnaev brothers, who orchestrated the attack, were radicalized, but Berg and screenwriters Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer choose to depict them as almost secondary to the story of the first responders who faced incredible odds to save so many lives. It is an interesting angle to take, as the story encapsulates Saunders and the decisions made by Police Commissioner Davis (John Goodman), Sergeant Pugilese (J.K. Simmons), and FBI Special Agent DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon). Berg wisely allows us just enough time to latch onto a couple of civilians who become integral to the eventual apprehension of the younger Tsarnaev sibling, Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff); a carjacked MIT student (Jimmy O. Yang) and a security officer in the wrong place at the wrong time (Jake Picking).

We also meet a young married couple, a father separated from his toddler son, and a handful of other caricatures who try and represent a tableau of the victims who were irreparably harmed or maimed by the attack. The efforts to incorporate these characters is far more appreciated than powerful.

Berg and team take Patriots Day into a different direction, offering a different kind of heroism not typically found in a tale of American tragedy and recovery. By focusing on the manhunt and the efforts to track down the brothers’ whereabouts by Boston PD and the FBI, we find ourselves caught up in something resembling a cinematic “Law & Order” episode. Berg’s reliance on Wahlberg comes at something of a price here because, quite frankly, the interesting elements of the story seem to not really involve Det. Saunders at all. Undeterred and committed to his leading actor, Berg continues to put Wahlberg in the center of everything, sometimes to the story’s detriment. 

Truthfully, the film’s best moment comes as something of an outlier, when an interrogator (Khandi Alexander) attempts to break down Dzhokhar’s American-born wife, Katherine (Melissa Benoist, fantastic). The two women engage in a powerful back-and-forth that makes you wonder why these two characters, and actresses, had just one scene to showcase their abilities.

But alas, here we are.

Photo | Lionsgate

Overall, Patriots Day is a solid film, skirting around themes and topics that could make this a more timely indictment of how we respond to tragedy in real time and the ways with which we gather information. Clearly, in a digital age, and a 24-hour cable news cycle, those in charge of the message often watch others co-opt and define the narrative. Though touched on here, Patriots Day mostly steers away from the misinformation and confusion that surrounded this story in the days that followed the Marathon. So instead, we see American symbolism, and tearful reunions, and other moments which I fear will make half of our country blindly cheer and the other half of our country roll their eyes at what could be construed as a heavy-handed and manipulative epilogue to wrap up the proceedings.

What Berg does provide overall is an engaging enough film, a grim and grisly story which ends in an uplifting way and then goes right for the heartstrings with what I would call a Berg-ism: the mini-documentary of sorts that grabs right for the heartstrings before sending you home from the multiplex. 

Berg and Wahlberg may have scratched out all subtlety in their collaborations together, but their collective belief in these stories, for better or worse, makes for some compelling and dramatic theater. And thus far, that has continued to serve them both quite well with audiences who will likely make Patriots Day a big box office success.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

SHOULD I SEE IT?

YES

  • Technically well-made, Patriots Day is a movie about a tragedy that broke our hearts and still retains much interest in the public eye.
  • The police procedural elements of the story will make this look and feel like a different film than what people may be anticipating.
  • Well-acted and easy to become consumed with, the pro-America look and feel, Berg’s mostly efficient way in pushing through the story, Patriots Day might do very, very well when it opens wide at the box office.

NO

  • Strictly speaking, as a movie, you’ve kind of seen this all before. Not a movie about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing before, but all the window dressing that comes along with watching this.
  • Feels a little exploitative, sometimes uncomfortably so, and yet positions the viewer into thinking that somehow being critical of the story and/or the movie makes you something less of an American than your neighbor over there.
  • For a more well-rounded look at the situation, maybe not make more than 50% of your cast characters who are composed of stereotypes and/or have one scene to speak with any depth or meaning. Instead, Berg and team take the easy way out, narrowing their focus and forgetting that this is a complex, multi-layered story that has fascinating and curious developments lingering all around it.
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