By Adam Berg
★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★
How can you tell if a film is exploiting a tragedy for profit or simply telling the story to give the victims a voice? Patriots Day probably falls somewhere in the middle but the story is so gripping it doesn’t matter. That’s the thing about movies that profit from tragedy; if they’re entertaining and work nobody cares.
Most of us watched as two terrorists bombed the 2013 Boston Marathon and watched their attempted escape to follow. It was sad and scary and Patriots Day captures those feelings by enveloping the audience in a surprisingly tense thriller. In fact, it’s so consuming it makes critiquing the film difficult. There aren’t many moments for reflection as you sit glued to the edge of your seat hoping we get the bad guys. This is interesting, because we know what happens to the bad guys and yet you will probably find yourself cheering as if unsure as to how the story will end.
The movie is less about the bombing itself but more about the manhunt for the terrorists, brothers Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff). The hunt is led by Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), a composite based on a few actual policemen. He’s a super-cop who always seems to be at the right place at the right time. It’s a little hokey but forgivable since the rest of the film is so good. Another drawback is all the focus on Saunders leaves us with less time with characters like Commissioner Davis (John Goodman), Sgt. Pugliese (J.K. Simmons), or Special Agent DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon).
The most relatable characters for audiences will be the everyday folks affected by the bombing. A couple very much in love, a university cop asking a girl on a date, a father and son watching the marathon and a student trying to adjust to life here in America. When we first meet them, they go about their everyday lives doing innocuous normal things. Little do we know is that these minor characters will play a much larger role later in the film. This includes the tear-jerking credits when we get to meet the real victims of the events. Their inspiring messages make you feel a sense of closure after an already emotionally draining two hours.
There’s a sense of patriotism that comes along with this movie experience. But director Pete Berg doesn’t cram it down your throat the way someone like Spielberg might. His is a more nuanced,”Look at how we all came together. We are all one and we stand united.” And that’s a great message for a movie to convey in this day and age where everyone’s a cynic… including me.
The Good: It’s easy to screw a movie like this up with an improper tone or pace, but kudos to the filmmakers who keep the story going and the audience engaged.
The Bad: Some may find the performances hollow and the characters numerous and underwritten.
Final Word: Yet another fine collaboration between director Berg and star Wahlberg. Patriots Day entertains, informs, and tells the story authentically.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan. Directed by Peter Berg.
Running Time: 133 minutes
Rated R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use.