Film Review: Patriots Day

Is Peter Berg in love with Mark Wahlberg? His infatuation with putting Marky Mark in his films leads me to imagine a humourous scenario in which Berg reads history books but can only see Mark’s face every time he imagines a hero in all of these disastrous situations. That notion aside, Lone Survivor was their first pairing and was quite the excellent take on a visceral wartime story. I also enjoyed Deepwater Horizon a great deal and the story positing BP as a corporate villain guilty of greed and money-grubbing made for a great antagonist.

This film tells the story of the Boston Marathon bombings, which took place in April of 2013. Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) has a bad knee and a bit of a drinking problem and isn’t too pleased that he has to stand at the finish line of the Boston Marathon “wearing a monkey suit” as the runners finish off the race. However, tragedy strikes and several explosions go off at the hands of two bombers (Alex Wolff & Themo Melikidze), who also watch the whole thing unfold on the news.

Is it too soon to make this film? I am of two minds regarding the answer to that conundrum. First of all, I enjoyed the film quite a bit. It is not a flawless film and it does take some liberties with Wahlberg playing a fictional character thrust into this very real world as well as giving us way too many characters that we could possibly learn to care about. Also, the film offers little in the way of explaining the big question and that is why the bombers (who are brilliantly portrayed in the film by Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze) would do what they did in Boston. Perhaps we haven’t had enough time perspective on the entire matter and that’s what I found to be a hinderance on the film being made so quickly after the events in question.

There are lots of positive aspects of the film though. I especially liked how they framed the narrative covering from the time span of just before the bombings took place until after the whole thing was finally resolved. One fear I had with this film is that it would linger on just the bombing and at 2 hours and 15 minutes, that would’ve been one slow-paced film. However, the marathon bombing occurs quite early in the film and by the time we reach the 40-minute mark, the investigation has already begun. The pacing is tight and consistent as well even though they could have stood to lose a few minutes here and there. It seems like Berg just wanted to cover his bases and tell the story as accurately and detailed as possible, which is at least admirable.

The acting is pretty solid across the board. Jokes about Peter Berg’s infatuation with his lead actor aside, Mark Wahlberg is always a steady hand in films like this. He knows how to lead films with a certain machismo but also enough vulnerability for us to relate to him as an everyman. In this movie, I don’t see him as slightly above a beat cop but also a bit down on his luck as he seems to have a bit of a drinking problem and constant aches and pains that he has to deal with at all times. Besides the two actors who portrayed the bombers who I already noted were excellent and turned in very realistic and chilling performances, there weren’t a lot of other real big standouts. It was nice to have Kevin Bacon and John Goodman on board and they were fine but nothing about them really stood out. It was just nice to have them both doing their thing to elevate the quality of the film. They both had a few great moments of intensity though. Michelle Monaghan, who I’ve always loved ever since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, does a decent job as Wahlberg’s wife but really it’s just another thankless ‘wife’ role.

The film is almost split into two halves with the first part of the movie mostly focusing on the events of the bombing, the immediate aftermath and the beginning of the investigation while the second half spends a lot more time with the bombers and how they manage to evade capture from the police. The second half tended to be a lot more interesting and tense, especially when a couple of characters that we’ve been introduced to earlier (seemingly unnecessary) turn out to be more pivotal than we had imagined and factor into the story quite a bit. For instance, there is a series of scenes in which the bombers kidnap a young man and force him to be their hostage while they drive around in his car. Those scenes are particularly unsettling as is an earlier one in which a police officer (I won’t say who it is in the film) is crushing on a young girl and then just like that, his life is plucked away when the bombers need a gun and kill him for it.

There are some sharp digs at the media as well and even though I was hoping for more of an attack, it was a welcome addition to the film. For instance, once the possible identities of the bombers is discovered, FOX News somehow gets a hold of that information before it is ever released to the public. In order to gain the upper hand, the FBI must unload that information before the media outlet and thus it puts the media in a place of having forced the hand of law enforcement. There is also some interesting dialogue about the FBI not wanting to designate the whole thing as an act of terrorism and also being afraid to announce the victim especially if it turns out incorrect for fear of being branded as anti-Muslim or racist in some other way.

The big problem with the film is something that people have mentioned before, I believe. This is a good film and there is no question about that. However, this redemption story of Wahlberg’s is an odd one to place at its center when the real heroes of the story are clearly the residents and community of Boston, who all pulled together to stand up strong and find the culprits. However, I would certainly recommend the film as it presents most of the facts correctly, offers up some real tense and frightening scenes and makes for an entertaining and somewhat thought-provoking night at the movies.

RATING: *** ½


Rating System:

* (Brutal; the worst rating)

** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)

*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)

**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)

***** (Flawless; a true achievement)