Patriots Day (2017) Dir. Peter Berg
This new film from Peter “Battleship” Berg is a real-life drama about the Boston Marathon bombers and the horrific after effects of their actions on the lives of regular folk in the historic city.
Set in 2013, and only 4 years old, the film has the slight problem of perhaps not allowing enough time to pass to really reflect on that incident and emotions generated. However, like 2016’s “Sully”, the selling point does seem to be “do you remember this?” which is a bit crass but not unheard of in this day and age.
Beginning with true-to-life and mundane scenes of regular Bostonians, the film’s lead is Mark Wahlberg (from Berg’s previous Deepwater Horizon and Lone Survivor) as Police Department Sergeant Tommy Saunders. This fictional character helps centre the film but dents the film’s credentials as an objective look at the events of that horrendous day. That said, it did not bother me as much as the Paul Greengrass-style school of shooting, although the camera is slightly less wobbly and much more in focus than his Bourne Supremacy.
The everyday lives are intercut with the marathon preparations as well as glimpses of brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the perpetrators of the crime. The younger brother is played brilliantly by Alex Wolff whose almost disinterest in the bombing is contrasted with his elder brother’s ruthless jihadi plans.
The doubts of the younger brother are edited with an early focus on the recurring theme of disability – blades can be observed on amputee runners on the start line and Wahlberg’s own cop is going through his own rehabilitation.
Alongside this we see wheelchair racers crossing the finish line whilst day-to-day cops are playing violent video games in their downtime. The calm is suddenly broken by the two bombs and the film kicks up a gear as the realisation that this is a terrorist incident begins to dawn on the cops. The music had a Hans Zimmer-Dark Knight vibe which gave an eerie sense of dread from composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Like The Dark Knight, cityscape shots are used to show how Boston became its own character as the events unfolded and a manhunt gets underway to track the brothers through the dimly lit streets.
Kudos should go to the production team whose recreations are so realistic I struggled to tell the real footage from the recreated moments. Different film stock, handheld cameras and fictional TV footage are seamlessly placed amongst real life photos and interviews. This realism hits home with hospital scenes of gruesome amputations showing the destruction the bombers inflicted. As well as the physical, we also experience the emotional toil as families deal with loss and the film’s focus on the regular people of Boston was definitely one of its key strengths.
Kevin Bacon as a Special Agent in the FBI's Boston field office brings some structure to the chaotic proceedings as his team use a warehouse recreation of the street – with added bloodied clothing – to act as a physical manifestation of the investigation.
The procedure of backtracking through the CCTV is skilfully adapted for the screen and helps keep the interest high despite most viewers already knowing the outcome. As the net closes in on the brothers, Patriot’s Day sadly veers slightly towards the standard Hollywood action genre in its finale with gun shootouts. Filmed again like a Bourne or a Bond, the camera is positioned “inside” the action and subsequently loses some of the credibility already built up.
The conclusion is as expected given the press coverage people may already be aware of and again, like “Sully”, there are interviews with the real life victims at the film’s ending. Unlike Sully though, the home movie footage showing the victims running the Boston marathon on leg-blades brought tears to my eyes. A fitting tribute to the spirit of Boston’s residents not letting anything, or anyone stop them.
Wahlberg, who has appeared in a lot of these recent topical films, is suited for the fictional Sgt. “Joe Everyman” but is mostly just ok. Kevin Bacon and John Goodman however bring their usual high quality to support roles, and JK Simmons isn’t utilised nearly enough, but the acting is impressive overall. I didn’t think the film was crass or exploitative per se – the film changes what it needs to work as a film – and the recreations reminded me of Oliver Stone’s JFK more than anything else. Which given how big a fan I am of that film is high praise.
It's pretty superficial when it comes to the background of the killers but if you’re interested in modern history without a full in-depth essay on the political arguments then Patriot’s Day is a fantastic dramatic retelling. It avoids glamorising the brothers and spends its time showing how people pull together and overcome a crisis in their community and it’s done with flair and a healthy respect for the Boston people it represents.
Midlands Movies Mike