Watch Steve's supplemental review at the bottom of this article.
The week of April 15, 2013 was one of the most devastating weeks not only for Boston, but America in general. I distinctly remember it; it happened with the Boston Marathon bombing that Monday, followed by the explosion of a fertilizer plant explosion in Waco, Texas two days later, and an entire week's rainfall in the Midwest, where I reside, was met with catastrophic flooding. America was in shambles and the only moment of solace was a city's unity following untold calamity that left six dead and nearly three-hundred injured.
Peter Berg's Patriots Day chooses to focus on that significant event, where the annual Boston Marathon was interrupted by massive explosions that shook the entire city and left many without limbs they had woken up with that very morning. The centerpiece for this story is Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), a heavy-drinking, long-time Boston cop with a bad knee, who is tasked to work the finish line under the orders of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman). Interjected with videos of runners prepping for the marathon are scenes involving two brothers, Tamerlan and Jahar Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff, respectively), readying makeshift bombs involving pressure cookers and metal pellets that will detonate and kill onlookers and runners as they cross the finish line.
When the inevitable occurs, a bloody scene is painted, with victims lying in a mess of shrapnel and the blood of other victims; Saunders can barely contain himself when he sees the corpse of an eight-year-old boy before his eyes, and a young couple who's son is stripped from their custody as they lie in a pool of their own blood. Once the FBI promptly arrives, led by Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and overseen by Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick (Michael Beach), the investigation turns into a sweeping, meticulous study into trying to track down those involved with the bombing through security footage, eye-witness accounts (many of whom in the hospital), and the Boston public, once the photos of the bombers gets released to the public.
Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons
13 January 2016
Steve's Grade: B
In Patriots Day, Berg doesn't hesitate to show you everything. Over a sprawling two hours, he offers you unflinching access to the interworkings of Boston's most capable and intelligent. We watch as DesLauriers and Davis turn an abandoned factory into a living, breathing terminal that has investigators, evidence-collectors, and a detailed crime-scene erected from nothing in record-time, and watch as both Tamerlan and Jahar plot their escape routes and go about their lives following such a devastating attack.
There's a ton going on in this film, and if nothing else, Berg and his accompanying screenwriters (Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer) find a delicate balance in cycling through everything. They find an unexpected coherence as the story shifts from the manhunt, to the photos of the suspects being released, to the MIT shooting and subsequent Watertown shootout, to Jahar being discovered hiding in a boat in Watertown. Moments of perilous violence are mostly shot with an awareness to the spatial relationships of characters and with a clarity that helps rather than hinders the audience. It's a messy chronology that could've shown its disorganized roots if Berg, Cook, and Zetumer weren't willing to take their time, and while they might get carried away (I do not recall the Watertown shootout being as nonstop violent as your average battle overseas), they nonetheless competently illustrate the madness that unfolded over the course of that fateful week.
There are moments that raise questions in Patriots Day, such as those dealing with minority characters being a tad problematic. The scene involving Tamerlan's wife (Melissa Benoist) feels drawn to be disrespectful, as do some of the scenes involving poor Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), the young man who was carjacked by the Tsarnaev's and nearly killed following the shooting of a police officer on the MIT campus. Despite this, where Patriots Day could've been flag-waving xenophobia and gross oversimplifications in lieu of American Sniper, any kind of seriously problematic or downright atrocious jingoism is absent here.
This is especially shown in how much care, attention, and depth Berg and company give to the Tsarnaev's even as their story grows gradually more difficult to watch. We see how Jahar, while acting on his own volition, is also cruelly manipulated and abused by his older brother, not only treated like an incompetent toddler but grossly underestimated in his ability, which makes a key-scene involving his brother so telling and even more sinister. Needless to say, both Melikidze and Wolff do commendable jobs in their roles.
Let's also give Peter Berg some serious credit, who, between this and last year's Deepwater Horizon, has proven himself to be an effective action director. Between these two projects, he essentially takes premises based on true events that operate on a field on artistic and narrative landmines and turns them into competent, entertaining, but respectful cinematic adaptations.
Patriots Day works as a bit of an anthology film regarding one of the most devastating events in recent American history. Strong acting from a variety of proven talents (Wahlberg, Goodman, and J. K. Simmons to name a select few) and a surprising humanization in a place I wouldn't have thought to expect it make the film far more surprising and effective emotionally and as a well-rounded project, despite notable problematic instances. "Enjoy" isn't the right word for this film, especially as the conclusion prompts sadness and recollection as we see photos of the deceased and videos of the survivors from the actual event. It's more of a favorable outcome that washes over us and an empowering sense of community that greets the utmost patriotic.