Peter Berg’s Patriot’s Day tells the tragic story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing manhunt by celebrating the people involved.
It’s easy to think that making a film about tragic events that happened less than 4 years ago is looking to exploit those events for entertainment and maybe there’s some truth in that. After all the film is about a true event that people will have an opinion about. If it was a made up story about a similar event then people would still draw the comparison so it’s easy to see where that thought process would come from.
The way the tragedy is handled is key in determining how it will be received. If handled in an insensitive way then there will be an audience backlash as would attempting to emotionally manipulate people using the event to stir emotions. I’m glad to say that the film is always respectful and treats the event with a real sense of dignity that always rings true.
Mark Wahlberg is all over the marketing for this film but he’s far from the star of the show. One thing that really struck me about this film is how much of an ensemble piece it is. As far as I’m aware, Mark Wahlberg’s Tommy Saunders is a composite of a couple of people involved in the events so isn’t directly embodying a real person. The addition of his wife Carol (Michelle Monaghan) is a simple way to give the character some level of depth.
This definitely works in the film’s favour as it simplifies the events somewhat without having too many characters involved but also limits his involvement in key parts of the story since he isn’t playing a real person who might have done these things. Tommy takes us through the story but never becomes the hero of it. This creates a really collaborative atmosphere that really sells the message that everyone involved is a hero in some way.
It sounds like a cheesy message but it doesn’t come across this way because the film spends so much time dealing with how serious the bombing is and approaches it from all angles. Everything from how the public would react to dealing with the injuries caused by the blast gets some attention and it really brings the audience into the scope of the situation.
The rest of the ensemble cast all bring something interesting to the plot. John Goodman is excellent as the frustrated Police Commissioner just trying to protect his city, J.K. Simmons does good work as the wisecracking Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese and Kevin Bacon is decent value as Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. They all feed into a group dynamic that feels organic and well developed even though they don’t share a lot of screen time.
Interestingly the film also goes some way towards developing the bombers Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff). Their motivations are made clear but the film makes no attempt to justify their actions in any way. I would have expected the bombers to be an idea rather than characters so was pleasantly surprised by them feeling like characters within the narrative rather than simply acting as the catalyst for the plot. Their home lives are developed somewhat as shown in the cross examination of Tamerlan’s wife Katherine (Melissa Benoist) with some hint at the implications for her and their child. It’s a good way to give a face to the bombers without any sympathy being created for them.
The first half of the film is the strongest as it sets the scene and mood really effectively. We are introduced to all of the characters involved and the narrative slowly builds up to the marathon itself. There’s a sense of dread about the whole thing which comes from knowing what is about to happen and the film does a great job building that up until the eventual pay-off. It’s an event that everyone watching knows is coming but doesn’t want to happen and the film capitalises on that by having that add into the sense of nervous anticipation.
Nothing about the bombing is sensationalised and none of the victims are lingered on for any longer than they have to be which is definitely the right way to go in terms of depicting the event as it conveys the devastation without exploiting it. It’s a thin line and the film does a really good job of being respectful while also shocking the audience.
The ensuing manhunt isn’t quite as compelling and the film loses momentum after a while but it’s still interesting to watch. It essentially becomes a procedural at this point with recreations of the scene of the attack and people pouring over security camera footage trying to find any clue that will help catch those responsible. As I said, it’s interesting to watch but there is a loss in pacing as it goes on.
Once the film shifts gears again to the manhunt after the culprits have been identified there are some really memorable moments such as a tense hostage situation involving the bombers and Chinese immigrant Dun Meng (Jimmy O Yeng) and a residential area shoot-out. In particular the shoot-out stands out because it’s not a familiar location for something like that to take place and there’s something terrifying about it happening just outside people’s homes. It’s also very well executed outside of a slight overuse of shaky cam.
At its core this film has a strong message of community and togetherness that comes through really powerfully. The phrase “Boston Strong” is repeated a number of times and it resonates wonderfully when applied to the other examples of attacks around the World. People come together in times of tragedy and the closing testimonials by the real people evolved in this incident are really moving to watch. The film handles its difficult subject matter with a large degree of sensitivity that does the people it honours proud.
A compelling film that shows a great deal of respect for the event and those involved. The story is an ensemble piece which shows how many people it takes to deal with something like this. The cast are all great and message of community that the film tries to promote comes through powerfully. The first half is the strongest as it builds tension and dread before the inevitable happens with the second half not being quite as strong due to some momentum being lost by the procedural elements. Once the story changes gears to the manhunt towards the end there are some really memorable moments.
- strong performances from the entire cast
- the building of tension and dread in the first half
- memorable moments in the second half
- a strong sense of community and togetherness
- a loss of momentum in the second half
- the slight overuse of shaky cam