PATRIOT'S DAY (8.0 out of 10) Directed by Peter Berg; Written by Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer; Starring Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan and Kevin Bacon; Rated R violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use; Running time 133 minutes; In wide release January 13, 2017.
Patriot’s Day had a very fine line to walk. Unlike director Peter Berg’s last real-life disaster film Deepwater Horizon, this retelling of the story of the Boston Marathon bombing takes place only a few scant years after the tragedy. It would have been very easy for Berg to degrade into exploitation and spectacle, but thankfully he takes a very measured approach that pays tribute to the heroes and victims while also painting a stark portrayal of the villains who were responsible for such brutality. In the end, he delivers a poignant if somewhat gut-wrenching look at the horror that took place in Boston less than four years ago.
The story is told mainly from the viewpoint of fictional Boston Police Officer Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) and follows him from his witnessing the bombing at ground zero to the manhunt for the two terrorist brothers to finally taking them down in the final act. Interspersed are short scenes introducing all the minor characters who either become victims, interact with the brothers as they are on the run from the law or who were heavily involved in the final shootout. As the plot progresses, we are constantly and literally reminded that the clock is counting down to the bombs being set off, as we wait for the fateful moment when hell is unleashed on the citizens of Boston. That same clock continues to tick away as the police, FBI and citizens of Boston embark on a massive manhunt for the two responsible before they can slip away and unleash more terror on other cities in the U.S.
To call Patriot’s Day a horror film wouldn’t be far off as the first 30 minutes or so ratchet up the tension to near panic-inducing levels. As mere spectators to the atrocity that is about to take place, the sensation of helplessness is close to overwhelming since we know what will happen and can do nothing to stop it. Of course, the difference between this and a normal horror movie is that what takes place in the latter is fake while this shows a real event that shattered the lives of hundreds of people only two or three degrees removed from the all of us, if not less. And since the movie does a decent job of getting us to care about everyone involved, it makes it more personal and reactive on an instinctual level.
Director Berg proves once again that he can get a great performance out of Wahlberg, who is just the kind of hero we are looking for in Sergeant Saunders. While Saunders isn’t based on any one Boston officer and is more an amalgam of the police force as a whole, he works well as the glue to hold the whole narrative together and keep the story hopping from one scene to the next. In fact, pretty much everyone from John Goodman, J. K. Simmons and Kevin Bacon do a great job in their roles, but they more easily fade into the background and are one-note, relegated to side jobs where they can just be angry and fulfill their responsibilities.
What was more surprising was the amount of time given to the two Tsarnaev brothers (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze) who are portrayed as the evil people they deserve to be. No effort is given at redemption as both, even the younger Dzhokhar who lived to face trial, are cold blooded monsters who were hoping for nothing more to destroy as many people as possible before they were put down like the rabid dogs they are.
One of the biggest questions floating around right now is whether or not this movie comes too soon after the events it’s based on, and I would have to go with a resounding yes. It’s not that the story isn’t well told or doesn’t pay tribute to the heroes and victims involved – it does -- but it seems odd watching the events play out in a venue where most of America goes to be entertained. Berg wanted to treat this with respect, and that is obvious from the get-go, but maybe he should have waited a few more years until telling this story.
So the conundrum we are left with is that this is a very well-made film that doesn’t cheapen the events of April 15, 2013, but still leaves us wondering when and if this story needed to be told. It’s definitely entertaining and heartfelt, but maybe the wound is still too fresh to poke and prod at it. Or maybe by reliving the Boston Marathon Bombing, we can rekindle that sense of pride and kinship we all developed in the weeks after that fateful day and which has become lost amid the chaos surrounding 2016 and beyond. Whatever the case, Patriot’s Day is an emotional roller coaster that will make an impact on everyone who sees it.