Image Credit: Lionsgate Films
An intense, prolific, and graphically brutal recount of the events of the Boston Marathon bombing and the four day manhunt that followed, Peter Berg’s brilliantly layered “Patriots Day” is the movie I’m determined he was born to make. A few years ago, these kind of headlines would have been made quick for a feature length TV special. Thankfully, Berg rises above those stereotypes with set pieces that roar with production value, and a cast that knows the stakes at which these events took place.
This is a no rush job TV movie, “Patriots Day” is a genuinely exciting motion picture that has been collaborated with extensive research. As suggested by the title, appropriated from the holiday on which the incident occurred. The film is also a welcome homage to Boston native, Mark Wahlberg, who has been in the last three Berg directed pictures “Lone Survivor” and “Deepwater Horizon,” both of which were excellent films, but “Patriots Day” goes above and beyond those, marking their best on screen pairing yet. Partially because the plot is handled with grace to those who sacrificed everything on that day.
Yes, we all know how this story ends and how it starts. I suppose one has to question why the filmmakers put Wahlberg as the center of attention, when he wasn’t even the sole hero of this story. Of course, those are small quibbles, Wahlberg is such a likeable guy, it’s always so hard to root against him. The movie is captured in kind of a shaky handheld type of lensing, with Berg borrowing many elements from his past efforts to help tell the story, nearly every minute of the film focuses on the resilient Americans who acted nobly in the face of terror.
The main attack itself takes place within the first half hour of the film as two pressure cooker bombs go off seconds apart from each other near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. A tough, insubordinate, Boston police officer, Sgt Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) is stationed yards away from the explosion and quickly becomes the hero we want him to be. Rising to the occasion of those in need, while making tough split second decisions. The explosion is told through a variety of surveillance and news footage perspectives (Berg actually manages to splice in REAL camera footage of the events taking place). Because of this, he also reveals the aftermath in chilling detail, with the bloody images of those injured staying long with you after the movie is over. The Tsarnaev brothers, those responsible for the explosions and played here by Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze, placed their backpacks at ground level, so many people lost their legs. Thus resulting in three fatalities (including one child, whose body authorities insisted be left in place for the sake of the investigation).
It’s not long before you have the Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick (Michael Beach), Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), and Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) declaring the event for what it was: terrorism. All the events which unfold after this, granted, aren’t surprises to anyone who turned on the news when it was happening. However, it’s the small details infused that we didn’t see which propel “Patriots Day” into must-see territory.
Details like the brave heroics of an Asian college student named Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang) and how vital he was to the eventual capture of the terrorists. Or how Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (JK Simmons) and his squad of small town police officers took part in a shoot-out in the streets of a residential neighborhood with the brothers throwing homemade explosives left and right. All of this is told in real time, and done with elegance, the film holds your attention and never lets you go.
My only issue with Peter Berg is that all of his female characters are reverted to stay at home wives that must be their for a shoulder to cry on. It was Kate Hudson in “Deepwater Horizon” and here it’s Michelle Monaghan as Wahlberg's spouse. They never have anything more to do than that, and I wish they did.
But what “Patriots Day” captures best is the spirit of the “Boston Strong” natives that showed how resilient they were and how quickly they combated hate. The film ends with real-life interviews and first hand accounts of the many people we see on screen throughout, it’s touching and emotional. So I understand it could be hard for some to watch a movie they know is going to pull on the heartstrings, or that it might hit close to home. It’s relatable, but Berg handles the material with so much respect that those affected by this tragedy should be proud with how their story was handled. A-