Patriots Day chronicles the events of the 2013 Boston Bombing and follows the extensive manhunt performed by the Boston police and the FBI. From the hours leading up to the annual Boston Marathon to the attack itself and the four days that followed, the film presents itself as a defiant and heartfelt ode packaged as a relentless action-thriller.
It marks the third collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg following Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, and it solidifies Berg as one of Hollywood’s premier action filmmakers. He is a formidable craftsman whose work is maturing steadily, and although his films are far from perfect, there is no denying his instinct for capturing action in compelling and uncompromising ways.
For Patriots Day Berg has addressed the subject in a typically patriotic way, as expected, and is unapologetic about his flagrant flag-waving. The bombing was a dark day for the city of Boston and its impact was felt around the world, and from the tragedy emerged a strong sense of community, where ordinary people became heroes and the entire city rallied around the victims. It was a defiant response that merited the nationalistic sentiments of the film and to ignore those attitudes would be a disservice to the story.
To begin with, the structure of the narrative is somewhat odd, the first act dedicated to exploring unrelated character developments. We are introduced to a number of people whose involvement in the story is revealed at various stages of the unfolding chaos. Some of these people play crucial roles in the story’s evolution while others are less significant. Given the varying layers of relevance these characters hold, I can’t help but wonder if the film would have played out more effectively without this early exposition. And seeing as the overall story is one of humanity and overcoming adversity, there seems to be no particular need for us to identify with the characters this prematurely.
Also, formulating Mark Wahlberg’s lead character, Tommy Saunders, as a fictitious composite of actual police officers doesn’t quite work the way the writers (five of them) intended. The screenplay goes to unnecessary lengths to give Saunders a story within the proceedings, ultimately placing a significant amount of fiction into what should have been a straightforward, honest account of the events. Having Wahlberg dominate the screen takes away from the film’s real-life characters and casts a massive shadow over their individual experiences.
Nevertheless, despite his character’s construct, Wahlberg’s performance is excellent. A native of Boston, Wahlberg clearly has a connection with the story, and whether he’s engaged in tense shootouts or in the grips of fatigue, he gives the role everything he’s got. It would seem that his partnership with Berg is one worth maintaining. The supporting cast – including Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and J.K. Simmons – make good use of their screen time and help keep the factual and dramatic aspects of the story on point.
The standout performances, however, come from Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze, who play the two bombers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev respectively. Director Berg places strong emphasis on their story and offers a fascinating insight into their deranged state of mind during this time. Wolff is particularly good as the younger brother, whose initial coercion becomes avid compliance. The role is a complex and divisive undertaking, and Wolff offers up an appropriately chilling and compelling performance.
This is a technically competent piece of filmmaking that successfully captures a sentiment and tells an emotionally charged story. Somehow, Berg has managed to deliver a gritty and intense action-thriller that simultaneously pays sincere tribute to the tragic events of 2013 and to those whose lives were lost and affected. In a way, Berg is redefining the “re-enactment” section of the true-story genre, and with this film having been made back-to-back with Deepwater Horizon there is no question that he is becoming a very important filmmaker.
Make no mistake, Patriots Day is one hell of a film. The pros far outweigh the cons, the aforementioned shortcomings pushed aside with sincerity and artistry. It is a relentless and thoroughly engaging movie that salutes a city’s resolve and waves the middle finger at those who seek to destroy the freedoms that America affords its people.