Is it too soon for the movie Patriots Day? The 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing is still a fresh wound, but Writer Director Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon) and Boston native, Producer/Star, Mark Wahlberg forged ahead because the wanted to honor Boston. What they’ve created is an effective re-creation of a black day in our memory. But they’ve also crafted a gripping crime-drama showing how heroes don’t always wear uniforms.
Berg and Wahlberg show us the events of April, 2013 on multiple parallel tracks. Wahlberg plays Sgt. Tommy Saunders of the Boston Police. He is a street-wise lifelong cop with love for his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and a love for alcohol. The audience mainly views the action through Saunders, but he’s also the only major character who doesn’t actually exist. He’s a fictionalized compilation of many police men and women. He is present at all the crucial moments, like the Marathon Finish Line as well as a the backyard boat in suburban Watertown where the surviving Tsarnev brother was captured.
The Boston bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, played by Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff, are completely diabolical. This is where the problem of dealing with this tragedy, so soon after the fact, comes into play. Simply by portraying these murderers, are we not continuing to give them what they wanted? More publicity? Some Boston residents, but not all, agree. The scenes of chaos and carnage will almost force you to turn away from the screen. Thankfully the hand held, quick cut editing kept the glimpses of blood and gore from feeling exploitative.
The Tsarnevs are juxtaposed against scenes of the lives of their victims which all intersect at the finish line. We see a father and his toddler son enjoying the day and most prominently the young married couple, Jessica Krensky (Rachel Brosnahan) and Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea) whose perfect lives and limbs are about to be shattered. The most tense scenes of all deal with Chinese student Dun Meng (played by Jimmy O. Wang) who gets carjacked by the bombers. The moments in that car leading up to his dramatic moment of truth, drew cheers from the theater crowd.
The law enforcement procedural of how they used street surveillance cameras and face recognition software to uncover identities and track down the bombers is the real strength of this film. It shows how from the Governor and the Mayor to Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and FBI Lead Investigator Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), law enforcement led with professionalism and passion to get their suspects. J.K. Simmons is veteran Watertown police Sargent Jeffrey Pugliese. He bravely faces the brothers with his handgun as they throw bombs at him and at all the cops on the scene.
In interviews, everyone associated with this movie all describe the first responders and civilian bystanders at the Marathon and throughout Boston as heroes. Boston Strong. Wahlberg’s goal in getting this project into theaters is to honor the courage and resilience of Bostonians in the face of horror. Even to the emotional moment at Fenway Park when Red Sox David Ortiz delivered his 54 word rallying call saying, “This is our f***ing city!" Boston Strong.
For the most part, Director Berg hits the right chords and the chords created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross in the score help build tension as each event occurs, until the final scenes. The formula for these kinds of quasi docu-dramas is to show photos and maybe a quick sound bite from the real people portrayed in the film. We thought the interview clips and shots of the real participants at the end of the film, in this case, just went on way too long. Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg went way over the line trying to drag every bit of emotion out of the audience. Sometimes less is more.
Patriots Day is meant to honor the people and the city of Boston. They refused to give into fear and joined the police to bring down the bad guys. Besides being a love letter to his hometown, Mark Wahlberg also gives us a solid performance in an exciting movie. If the Marathon Bombing event is still raw in your memory, you might want to wait a few more Patriots Days until you watch this one. It strikes a nerve.