Patriots Day is a well-executed, at times riveting, other times devastating, retelling of that fateful, tragic week in Boston of April 2013. Director Peter Berg, in his signature cinéma vérité-style of filmmaking, captures well the harrowing set of circumstances surrounding the victims of this tragedy along with the beautiful heroism and perseverance of those tasked with seeing a city and community’s paralyzing nightmare to its bloody end. The big moments – the bombings at the finish line, the hostage’s escape at the gas station, the shootout in Watertown, etc. – are enough to take your breath away; they’re shot, edited, and performed precisely how one closely following these events back in 2013 would imagine those involved actually experienced them, which makes it all the more difficult as a viewer to re-witness. The story of the people whose lives were forever changed over the course of that day and week – the victims, the first responders, the police officers, the monsters responsible – is a remarkable one all on its own, and this film captures the power and spirit of their experiences adequately and respectfully for myself as a viewer to feel satisfied.
But man, does this film have a Mark Wahlberg problem – an issue, considering he’s in a lot of it. As anyone remotely familiar with the harrowing events that transpired that day and week would think, a simple beat for beat documentary about the intense, powerful, inspiring experiences that the people of this story were able to overcome would’ve been enough to captivate an audience. So the decision made to place a fictional character starring one of America’s biggest movie stars at the center of it, to filter all the tragedy and triumph primarily through his eyes and superficial problems, is a puzzling one, and one that for me personally diminished a lot of emotional impact the film otherwise would’ve had. The question of whether or not it was “too soon” to dramatize a tragedy as raw and fresh in the minds of the public as the Boston Marathon Bombing has been one that’s loomed large over the production and release of this film; if you think it was too soon, getting passed that on your way to enjoying this film might be difficult. But to then throw a big Hollywood star into a fictionalized role as the hero and savior of just about every major plot-point I would argue feels one cheap step too far. There’s one scene in particular in which his character, a police sergeant named Tommy Saunders, is tasked with demonstrating his savant-like abilities in identifying the precise location of each Boylston St. storefront near the sight of the blast for the purposes of singling out certain security footage, as though he was the only person in the world capable of accomplishing such an impossible task. It was a ridiculous scene, and one that stood only to cheapen the actual accomplishments of those responsible for the purpose of further positioning Mark Wahlberg’s character as the one true hero of this story.
I liked this film a lot, and probably would’ve liked it a lot more had it filtered its story through the point-of-view of a real-life figure such as Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) or F.B.I. S.A.C Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon). Seeing their characters, along with others such as J.K. Simmons’ Watertown police chief or Jimmy O. Yang’s carjacking victim, operating similarly to how we were first introduced to them through our TV sets in 2013 but with greater detail and insight into their personal experiences was the most rewarding aspect of this film for me. One thing I wouldn’t dare knock the film for is its genuine commitment to showcasing the heroism, bravery, and decency of all who were impacted on that day; not just the big players we’re most familiar with, but the lesser-known first-responders, police officers, and victims who were every bit their equal throughout this impossible ordeal. Even when it was tripping over itself trying to stuff Wahlberg’s character into every significant beat within the narrative, its heart was more often than not in the right place. For all that Patriots Day was able to do exceedingly well, I’d say it’s well worth the time.
Rating: ***1/2 out of five
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons
Runtime: 133 minutes