Patriots Day





Patriots Day is the third collaboration and second of 2016 between director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg- Deepwater Horizon is the other. At this point, these two have the market cornered on movies about American tragedies that effect every day working people. Where Horizon dealt with rig workers and the explosive BP oil spill, Patriots Day follows Boston Police officers and first responders on April 15th, 2013 during the Boston Marathon bombing. This lead to a citywide manhunt of the Tsarnaev brothers, who were responsible for one of the worst U.S. attacks since 9/11. Berg, has made another intense procedural drama, which succeeds at keeping audiences on the edge of their seats, but fails to build characters out of the multiple heroes involved in these horrific events.   

Wahlberg plays a fictional character- Sgt. Tommy Saunders, a tough Boston native, with past mistakes that land him wearing a funny neon yellow vest, and working the Marathons crowd control. The script, written by Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer, has all the fine details of the chaotic situation. They start by surveying the race environment using arial shots and prep our emotional triggers through various characters whose lives that would never be the same after that day. We are introduced to a young couple, Patrick Downes (Christopher O'Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan), who both lost a limb in the blast, or race onlooker Charlie Collins (Billy Smith), who was also injured and separated from his son through after the blast. We also meet Saunders wife Carol (played by by Michelle Monaghan, given very little to do but console Tommy) who barely escapes unscathed. Dramatically, we know what happens and it still sends a shocking reminder of that days unimaginable horror.

Perimeters are set, the most sophisticated surveillance technology is used, all so that police and FBI can approach the best angle in their pursuit of catching Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and his brother Dzhokar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff). Saunders becomes a middle man for all the action between FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), whose timid to claim terrorism, with surrounding Boston big whigs Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and Governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) beathing down his neck to solve the situation. The pressure mounts to get the bad guys, as help comes from Watertown police Sargent Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons), and the straregy to use the community to flush the criminals out. Patriots Day, is at its best in scenes where members of the Boston Police Department are working together, especially in an intense fire fight with the attackers. This is a strong and realistic look of just how dangerous the job can be for police at any moment.

The problems, however, are often throughout the entire 133 minute runtime. First, the pace is a bit everywhere and leaves little time for character development. Then there is the fact that Saunders is not even a real life character. This decision feels selfish of Berg and Wahlberg. With all the true heroes involved, they create a supercop that is present at all the important moments. He's at the blast scene, he helps save lives, questions the families, hunts down the brothers, and even makes the final arrest. The script also uses inappropriate comic relief, including when the Tsarnaev's hijack a car and kidnap college student Dun Meng. It turns into a sequence for the brothers to get laughs with their stupidity. I found this in poor taste, especially with subject matter that is never, in any significant moment, funny. Even when the action builds to that Tsarnaev shootout with police, ending in Tamerian's death, it is quickly sealed by Simmons's character delivering a Schwarzenegger-like pun of “I gotta quit smoking”, just moments after bullets were flying at his head. I didn't buy it. I actually found it shockingly bad.

Patriots Day works as a procedural drama that relies on zipping through the substance and cutting through a ticking clock. However, the use of Wahlberg as our eyes and ears is confusing, especially since there are multiple real-life heroes involved in this story, any of which in this situation the narrative could have followed. Yet, Berg does zero digging into why the Tsarnaev's did what they did, draws little depth into the men and women who risked their lives to capture these criminals, and how American lives were changed from that day forward. The spirit of these heroes and community will forever be Boston Strong. This movie, however, is pretty weak.

2 ½ Stars

Written by: Leo Brad