Patriots Day Review
Of recent years, both actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg have teamed up together to produce a pair of movies that are “based on true life” events, but also grounded in the American heroism and human emotion. Their first collaborated together was in the 2014 movie Lone Survivor, which was based off of the book of the same name by Marcus Luttrell. This military drama of 2006’s “Operation Redwing” showed that both Wahlberg and Berg have a special affinity for these type of films, with Lone Survivor gained “mostly positive reviews” and grossing roughly $140 million at the box office (not bad considering its $40 million production price tag). In 2016, the actor and director teamed up once again for the film Deepwater Horizon, which was based off of the oil rig (Deepwater Horizon) explosion and disaster that occurred in 2010. While the movie sort of broke even at the box office (grossing $118 million against it $110 million production budget), Deepwater Horizon was still met with (in general) mostly positive reviews from both fans and critics, proving that team up between Wahlberg and Berg is still a success. Now, shortly after releasing Deepwater Horizon a few months ago, actor Mark Wahlberg, director Peter Berg as well as CBS Films and Lionsgate Entertainment, present the third Wahlberg / Berg collaboration with the movie Patriots Day, based on the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Is it “third time’s a charm” for the actor / director team up or does this movie loses it way in paying tribute to such an event, its victims, and its heroes?
The years is 2013 and Boston police office Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) is on the last day of his semi-official suspension for a previous incident and is assigned to security duty at April’s annual Boston Marathon, handling the crowd control near the race’s finish line. Dealing with a bad knee and a drinking problem, Tommy’s takes in the event, with thousands of spectators gathering to watch the annual city race. Unfortunately, Tommy’s focus is quickly sharpened and but through a ringer when two bombs are detonated during the race, causing mass chaos and taking lives as people scatter for safety. Quickly arriving on the scene are Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach), and FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), who set up a command center dedicated to figuring out who created the bombs, searching through surveillance videos and physical evidences. As time passes, the pressure builds for terrorist Tamerclan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) and his submissive younger brother, Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff), who watch as their identities are gradually revealed to the law enforcement officials, sending them on a self-destructive course as Tommy and his fellow cops comb the Boston for leads and clues, tracking the siblings’ path of violence and bring them to justice.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
By and large, the duo of Wahlberg and Berg seems to work, bringing success to their feature film collaborations. I personally I have seeing both movies (Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon) and highly enjoyable both (see my reviews for both). As for which one I like better, it’s pretty much a tossup. I did read the book Lone Survivor and was well-versed in Lutrell’s account, but Deepwater Horizon was a bit more intense (in my opinion) in its destruction oriented scenes. On the other hand, both displayed the right amount of patriotism and heroism on-screen. Thus, I like them equally for what they were. However, in doing my movie reviews, I think that Deepwater Horizon is better than Lone Survivor. This, of course, brings me to Patriots Day, their third collaboration of working together. I actually first saw the trailer for Patriots Day when I went to see Deepwater Horizon in theaters. Naturally, I was intrigued and, of course, knew of the horrific events that occurred on April 5th, 2013 (via the news and various social media outlets), but I wasn’t completely well-versed on some of more intricate details about it. In any case, with a limited release in December 2016, I finally got a chance to finally see Patriots Day when it went nationwide on January 13th. What did I think of it? With some good performances, engaging narrative, suspenseful drama, Patriots Day is a powerful and moving feature representation of the “true life” event.
With director Peter Berg directing the feature, many can expect the same style and presentation found in his previous works. Much like climatic and destructive scenes in Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, Berg excels at recreating such powerful and visceral events rather than a dissected / cerebral-provoking examination of the Boston Marathon bombing. While both Berg’s pervious works took a bit to get to that climatic point (usually in the second act), Patriots Day jumps right into the action by the 20-25-minute runtime mark (after initially setting up the film’s characters / events). When the bombs do go off, Berg excels at creating a chaotic scene of confusion and of horror, showcasing a variety of the victims caused by the terrorist attack (i.e. shaken, distraught, and in pain). Although, while the film does show these acts of violence and graphic scenes throughout the film (remember this is an R-rated film), Berg is still respectful to the 2013 marathon attack and to the victims and local personnel who were affected by this act of terrorism.
In terms of filmmaking, Berg utilizes the classic shaky handheld camera to keep up with the film’s candid nature through the film’s events. Some might think this style might be overplayed in the film, but (to me) I believe it worked, capturing a lot of the dramatic tension as well as the fear and panic in certain scenes, especially during the immediate aftermath of the bombing. The film is also aided by sharp sound design and quick-paced editing, making the on-screen images frenetic and bombastic in its atmosphere surroundings. In addition, the film also uses the movie’s score, which is composed by Oscar-winning Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor. Their score adds to the film, producing several eerie and unsettling moments, which aids the film’s dramatic tensions during some palpable scenes. All of these film aspects and moviemaking nuances allow Berg to captures the terror and immediate raw emotion throughout the events of Patriots Day.
While Lone Survivor dealt with a team of Navy Seals and Deepwater Horizon dealt with group of blue collar oil riggers, Patriots Day focuses on the people of Boston (i.e. the general public, local police officers, and a few government officials), especially those who were affected by the attacks. The film’s script, which is penned by Berg as well as Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer, is interwoven with multiple character threads, which allows different points of views for the Boston Marathon bombing and the its collective aftermath story. That not to say that the movie as a main thread, which is (of course) is the bombing attack, with Berg using Wahlberg’s character is the unifying thread to tie most of the plots together. These various narrative threads are effectively cross-cut together throughout the film, allowing the movie to sustain a heightened and suspenseful level of dramatic tension throughout the film’s entire runtime. Much like how I was when first watching Deepwater Horizon, I was literally on the edge of my seat (in certain scenes) and my heart was indeed racing. Seeing certain character collide with one another through either conversations or acts of violence. To do such a thing (to a viewer), is the result of a fine job from the movie’s director and his filmmaking team (both in front and behind the camera) in achieving the expected reaction from a person seeing their final product.
Patriots Day, despite being powerfully thematic and an inspirational tale of courage and bravery, has some shortcomings. While Berg makes the film both engaging and enthralling, it does tend to skip over some more thought-provoking moments of reflection with certain issues, most notable in how the Boston government (temporarily) placed marital law on the city and put their certain civil rights on hold. It would’ve been beneficial to see the pros and cons (or rather repercussions) of such a decisive decision, but it’s a minor one (the film does run for 2 hours and 13 minutes). Another problem in the movie is that Berg goes into the tedious details in the official protocol and procedures of such events (i.e. the joint dealing of the FBI and the local Boston police). Much like the past two Berg / Wahlberg collaboration films, these moments get a bit bogged down, with the camera lingering too long on such scenes that are repetitive in the do’s and don’ts on such extreme events. Again, both of these are minor negative quibbles that bothered me in the movie. However, there is one problem that Patriots Day does face….and that’s in its cast of characters or rather their character development.
The cast in Patriots Day is a strong one, with several big name / recognizable actors playing these real-life people. However, with a sprawling cast, some characters get the strong end of the stick, which makes their character (in general) thin and a bit flat. All of them give great acting performances in their respective roles, it’s just that some are more memorable than others, with those particular few becoming footnote in the film’s narrative. Being the third collaboration of Berg / Wahlberg team up, it’s only fitting that actor Mark Wahlberg plays the movie’s central protagonist character Tommy Saunders. As Saunders, Wahlberg does a good job, playing to his strengths in channeling his familiar “tough-talking guy” that’s mixed with the “everyday man” quality that he’s usually done in his prior collaborations with Berg. It is worth noting that, while most of the film’s characters are based on real-life people, the character of Tommy Saunders is a fictional creation for Patriots Day (again, to tie certain events together). In truth, the Tommy Saunders character isn’t quite as strong as Wahlberg portrayal of Marcus Luttrell in Lone Survivor nor as Mike Williams in Deepwater Horizon, a result due to the fact that he (Saunders) isn’t grounded by a someone in real-life person, and, more often than not, is caught up in the film’s major action beat and plot points. However, Mark Wahlberg’s actor presence helps elevate Tommy Saunders in making him the “big hero” of the feature. All in all, while not as strong as his previous roles, Wahlberg still gives a solid performance as Tommy Saunders and works well for what Patriots Day needs him to be.
Leading the supporting cast are seasoned actors John Goodman as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, J.K. Simmons as Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, Michael Beach as Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick, and Kevin Bacon as FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers. These four give great performances in their respective roles in playing important real-life people who figure into the movie’s narrative. Similarly, actors Themo Melkidze and Alex Wolff are equally effective as the two bombers Tamerclan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are given enough depth (and personality) to feel like real people (despite them doing sinister deeds) and don’t come off as cartoon-ish bad guys. This also extends to actress Melissa Benoist as Katherine Russell, Tamerlan’s converted wife, who shares a bone-chilling interrogating scene with unspecified government agent official (played by actress Khandi Alexander). Perhaps the real standout role of the supporting cast is in Jimmy O. Yang, playing the unsung hero of the actual event, Dun Meng. Not going to spoil it, but Yang’s role / part in Patriots Day is terrific. Lastly, actress Michelle Monaghan does a good performance as Tommy’s wife Carol Saunders, but her character is only important in the film’s first act. Again, all of these actors / actresses deliver fine acting performances in their roles, but, given the quickening pace and compressed timeline of the feature, there really not great character study within the supporting cast. However, given the various narrative threads in the film, it would be a daunting (and tedious) task to develop fully-rounded personas for each individual character.
As a final note, many have speculated on the nature of Patriots Day or rather the cinematic representation of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Soon have argued that’s it was, for lack of a better saying, “too soon”? to be adapted as a feature film. It’s definitely open for discussion since the events only occurred several years ago, and it might be a sensitive subject matter to tackle (as a movie) since this act of terrorism only occurred roughly three and half years ago, with some people still feeling the pain of this particular tragedy. Others have argued that Berg and his filmmaking team took too much “poetic license” in Patriots Day, making the tale of the marathon bombing larger and more “Hollywood” for the film. Again, this is another question to be debated and discussed by viewers. However, no movie that’s “based on a true story” is 100% percent accurate from its true life narrative, giving the filmmakers (in this case Berg) to spice up the events to create a more well-rounded and entertaining representation of the story that want to tell for their viewers. Regardless if you agree or disagree with these two points, Berg’s Patriots Day showcases (towards the film’s end) a powerful message about love being stronger than hate. This, of course, can be easily reflected upon by many viewers at a time when reports of recent and numerous hate crimes have arisen in the following years.
In amidst terrible tragedy and frantic chaos, courage and heroism unfolds in the movie Patriots Day. Director Peter Berg latest film portrays (through a cinematic lens) the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing in a raw and emotion way, showcasing the horrors of the terrorist attack as well as the bravery shown by those who were affected by the attack. While there are some negative nitpicks about this movie (mostly in its characterizations), Patriots Day is a powerful and emotional film, which is compiled and presented with enough attention to detail (both thematic and in entertaining) thanks to Berg’s direction and to the film’s cast. Personally, I really liked this movie. The cast was great, the story was engaging, the dramatic tension was well-utilized, and the thematic message at the end was moving. It is because of this that I would give this movie my highly-recommended stamp of approval. While I do love Patriots Day, my heart does go out to the real-life individuals who were affected by this events and those who aided in the capture those who caused such a violent attack of terrorism. To those people , and for that matter the people of Boston, stay strong…Boston Strong!
4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: January 14th, 2017
Reviewed On: January 24th, 2017
Patriots Day runs 133 minutes long and is rated R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use
Wow, this is a really, really well written and well thought out review. I didn’t like the movie at all because I just couldn’t get past that “icky” feeling I had as a spectator to a terrible event. But as always, I enjoyed reading your perspective! –Louisa
Haha…thank you for the comment. I am to please. I get what your saying (and its understandable), but it didn’t feel that way with me.
Most people I know loved it, so maybe it’s just me! 🙂
I really need to see this. I’ve tried a couple of times but something (namely life) got in the way.
Great review as always, Jason. I posted my own a little while ago. I was much more impressed with Wahlberg than you were, but our overall scores are pretty similar. I think Berg consciously is avoiding the controversial elements of these films, because he intends them as memorials to people whose stories otherwise get lost in the larger narrative. He did address briefly how shutting Boston down was skirting martial law and the interrogation scene with what are clearly meant to be NSA or CIA operatives is a reminder of the larger narrative of terrorism. I think, though, if you begin to get deeply into those topics, you risk getting your story lost in the weeds of questions for which there really are no answers. Berg and Wahlberg deserve huge props for churning out this and Deepwater in one year.
Saw this today. Amazing. Boston Strong.
Awesome….glad you liked it!
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