Patriots Day FILM REVIEW
Director: Peter Berg
Screenplay: Peter Berg & Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist
Rated R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use
Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes
**** out of *****
Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (KEVIN BACON), Sergeant Tommy Saunders (MARK WAHLBERG) and Commissioner Ed Davis (JOHN GOODMAN) look over some security camera footage in director Peter Berg's PATRIOTS DAY.
Unless you're from the state of Massachusetts, Maine or a United States history buff, you likely haven't heard about the state holiday of Patriots Day. Patriots Day commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord which were the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. Since 1897, on the state holiday, the Boston Marathon has been run through the city of Boston, Massachusetts. On April 15, 2013, during the 117th edition of the marathon, the unthinkable occurred when terrorists set off two bombs during the televised event. Director Peter Berg's PATRIOTS DAY chronicles the events surrounding the attack and the ensuing manhunt that captured the world's attention.
PATRIOTS DAY isn't the first film to dramatize actual events such as the Boston Marathon bombing. In 2006, audiences were given a double dose of films about the September 11th attacks. The first to arrive was Paul Greengrass' visceral UNITED 93. Later in the year came Oliver Stone's WORLD TRADE CENTER which was serviceable but overtly melodramatic. Berg's film is more like the former, while not in the same league, and does have touches of the latter but in the end is an engrossing dramatization. For the most part, Berg and his fellow writers would appear to have stuck to the facts and have structured the film to chronologically follow events in real time. Much like a documentary, as the film progresses, on-screen text introduces viewers to characters and provides times and locations. In addition, the film unfolds like a police procedural that is quite compelling even though you, presumably, know where it is going. Ultimately, the film works as a crime thriller and a true-life drama.
When I said that Berg and company stuck to the facts for the most part it's because Mark Wahlberg's character, Tommy Saunders, is a work of fiction; a fact I didn't know about until after seeing the film. He is that character who was created for dramatization purposes. Regardless the character serves its purposes as he is clearly the eyes and ears of the viewer and at times Wahlberg is called upon to express the fear, anger and despair that most of us would likely be feeling at any given moment during these harrowing few days. Wahlberg is very good as Saunders. In one scene he becomes emotional as he recounts what he witnessed and it can be a challenge to hold back the tears. You can totally empathize with him only because you know there were real cops who lived through it and likely felt the same way. Despite the character's origins, likely an amalgamation of many officers on duty that day, the film is more accessible and engrossing with Wahlberg leading the way.
Wahlberg may be leading the charge but this is very much an ensemble film. Berg has assembled a number of strong actors to fill out his picture. John Goodman appears as Commissioner Ed Davis. Michelle Monaghan plays Carol Saunders, Tommy's wife. J.K. Simmons stars as Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese. Kevin Bacon plays Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze portray the Tsarnaev brothers, the bombers. Not to be outdone is a supporting cast who play the smaller, yet significant, roles of people who were in some way involved in the events. With the exception of Monaghan's character, all parts are based on real people. There are moments during the film that are bit on the melodramatic side but those are quickly forgiven when you see and hear from the actual people the characters are based upon.
UNITED 93 felt like a documentary. WORLD TRADE CENTER felt like a movie. Berg does a great job of recreating events in all their detail and finds a decent balance between verisimilitude and dramatization. The recreation of the bombing really captures the confusion, fear and heroic leaps into action that were on display that day. Events that we likely read about or saw on the news are presented here in a more matter-of-fact fashion. The shootout that occurs between the Tsarnaev brothers and the police feels like it's straight out of your average action movie but in this case life imitates art as a quiet neighborhood finds itself under siege.
To date this is the best film Berg has directed. While it doesn't achieve the level of uncomfortable reality that Greengrass displayed with his film, Berg manages to avoid most of the trappings inherent to dramatizations. It's a testament to the story, actors and director that they were able to take fictional characters and insert them into a real life drama and make them feel germane to the actual events. The engrossing PATRIOTS DAY works as a recreation, a police procedural, a thriller, a very human drama and, thanks to the words of those who lived it, a hopeful and inspirational film.