Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons, Themo Melikidze, Alex Wolff, Melissa Benoist, Khandi Alexander, Jimmy O. Yang, Jake Picking
There are three things that you can do on Patriots Day. You can watch the marathon, run in the marathon, or go cheer on the Boston Red Sox. It’s practically a holy day of observation for Bostonians to honor their city and community. That was all tested on April 15, 2013 when two brothers set off pressure cooker bombs near the finish line. The tragic event rocked the nation, and now director Peter Berg reteams with fellow Boston native Mark Wahlberg to probe into what happened on that day. Oddly enough, Wahlberg plays a fictional cop named Tommy Saunders who is a committed member of the Boston police force looking to get ahead in his career. He’s a loudmouth and always ends up getting a ribbing from his fellow officers. Saunders represents a variety of the officers on the scene that day. He’s the standard Mark Wahlberg kind of character, but it suits the movie well. Peter Berg goes all Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson like by making this an ensemble film as opposed to keeping it all focused on Wahlbeg’s character. The film shares the stories of many involved that day including: Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (Simmons), a young MIT security guard (Picking), Tamerlan (Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (Wolff) Tsarnaev, and the young Chinese app developer (Yang) who they took hostage that night. It becomes a race against the clock for members of the FBI and the Boston P.D. to track down the perpetrators of such a heinous crime.
Peter Berg’s choice to share all of these intertwining stories creates a deeper sense of community and scope of how impactful this crime was to the city. The film opens with introductions to many of the people involved. Berg, along with co-screenwriters Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer, invites us into the lives many of these key players had before the bombing happens. It may seem random at first to cut back and forth from the cops and their race to piece it all together to scenes with the security guard, the app developer, and the Watertown police. As the clock ticks on, it becomes apparent how everyone fits together. Knowing the lives and backgrounds the normal, everyday civilians had before the attack offers an opportunity to grow hatred for the Tsarnaev brothers and gain sympathy for the victims and police officers involved. This choice also sets the film a part from your typical thriller/chase movie where characters pop up out of nowhere when the scene calls for them.
This marks the third collaboration between Wahlberg as actor and producer and director Peter Berg following their other true stories Lone Survivor (2013) and Deepwater Horizon, their film from 2016 about the 2010 oil rig disaster. All three are contemporary true stories that keep you on the edge of your seat. They appear to have a strong working relationship as director and actor, and I’ll be curious to see if they continue to tell these types of frontline stories. With Patriots Day, they have honed in on the community aspect of this story. With Wahlberg’s deep roots to Boston, they successfully capture the culture of the city and the importance that the marathon and the Red Sox have on the community. It feels like a giant undertaking for them to recreate the Boston marathon from this date and display the scope of it. Peter Berg makes great use of aerial shots to showcase how much it takes over the city, and he plays with security camera footage to capture the street level views of the day. I do wonder how much real footage they used from that day.
Like we saw with Lone Survivor, Berg is great at capturing the high intensity of the situation. No matter what facts you remember from those few days, he builds tension right from the beginning as you wait for the bomb to go off. I found myself jumping when the moment happens even though I was waiting for it to go off. It abruptly catches you off guard much like the real incident. He then proceeds to keep the rest of the film a high-octane ride, especially with the portrayal of the Tsarnaev brothers. The pulsating nature makes it easy to understand the hard work that went into capturing them. Berg also raises the question as to when the authorities should start releasing information about the suspects to the public. When do you start labeling it as terrorism? The conversations between Wahlberg, John Goodman, and Kevin Bacon circle back and forth on when they want to involve the public for help in finding them and when does the public have the right to know what’s going on with their city.
Berg and Wahlberg have made an extremely moving film about the strength of community and the power of resilience. They boast a big name capable cast with Goodman, Bacon, J.K. Simmons, and Michelle Monoghan with stand out performances from Themo Melikidze as Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Khandi Alexander as one of the interrogators. The cast accurately brings forth the idea of “Boston Strong” on screen. It’s easy to get emotionally connected to the victims’ stories even if you aren’t a Bostonian or have never been to the area. Don’t leave at the end as it concludes with testimonials from the real life subjects the film portrays describing how the bombing has affected their life and how they’ve overcome tragedy. Bring a tissue as you may get a little choked up.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? An exceptionally crafted film that pays tribute to the cops, victims, and survivors of the Boston marathon tragedy
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS