Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Life (2017)

Life after Gravity.

LIFE-poster

Mankind is on the verge of a major milestone. The “Pilgrim” probe is returning from Mars containing soil samples that might spell the discovery of the first palpable evidence of life beyond earth. Proving that earth scientists are not completely incompetent, the probe is being returned not to earth but to a lab on the International Space Station where strict quarantine can be maintained. This key mission requirement is the responsibility of Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”). Supporting her is an international crew including fellow doctor David Harris (Jake Gyllenhaal, “Source Code”), professional astronaut Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds, “Deadpool”) and Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), the lead scientist studying the samples.  Needless to say, the soil samples yield more promise than Derry could have ever hoped for (or North could have feared).  A crisis of growth and death ensues in a manner that fans of “Alien” will be suitably familiar with. Can the crew survive against all the odds?

LIFE4
The ever-impressive Rebecca Ferguson.

Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favourite actors with a raft of quality films in his CV such as “Nightcrawler” and last year’s hugely underrated (and almost Oscar-ignored) “Nocturnal Animals”. Rebecca Ferguson is also a class act and one of my favourite actresses of the moment. Here they are starring together for the first time and they don’t disappoint. Whilst neither gets enough quality screentime to really hammer their roles home, both connect to the audience in different ways: Harris is heading for an ISS endurance record, and starting to mentally disconnect from earthly connections as his body also starts to atrophy. North, with a clear attraction to him, tries to hold both him and everything together with steely determination, while carrying more knowledge of the mission directives than anyone else has.

The supporting ensemble cast also work well, portraying a real mixture of nationalities from the cock-sure American played by Reynolds to the sultry Russian commander Golovkina, played by the lovely Olga Dihovichnaya. A special note should also be added in the margin for one of the most surprising portrayals of a disabled character in a recent film.

LIFE1
Jake Gyllenhaal seeing something more scary than the rabbit suit.

Unfortunately the material the actors get to deliver, by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (co-writers of “Deadpool” and “Zombieland”) doesn’t match their ability. The first 30 minutes or so of the film I found to be totally gripping, but even here some of the dialogue is sufficiently clunky to distract you from the ongoing narrative. Some of the rest of the dialogue becomes head-in-the-hands awful in places:  a scene during a de-pressurization episode being particularly painful. 

LIFE3
Olga Dihovichnaya heads up the ISS multinational team.

Some dodgy dialogue might be forgivable in an action movie if supported by a strong story. Unfortunately, while the premise of the film is sound (if not original), the story leaps from inconsistency to inconsistency from beginning to end. The writers never seem to settle on whether the ‘being’ needs oxygen, likes oxygen, likes hot, likes cold, etc. and this lack of credibility distracts from the whole film. While the screenplay delivers some seriously suspenseful moments, and some decent jump scares, this is not satisfactory enough to serve up a cohesive movie meal.     

This is not helped by ‘bad science’. As I have commented upon before, I’m a physicist by training and unscientific scenes annoy me to distraction. I’ve had to learn to live with the basics of explosions and other ‘noise’ in space (something “Star Wars” started 40 years ago, damn those TIE fighters). But there is a scene in “Life” involving an airlock breach that just completely beggers belief, acted out as if it’s a stiff breeze on the front at Skegness! It’s almost – (almost) –  as bonkers as the ‘reactor venting’ scene with Chris Pratt in “Passengers“. 

LIFE2
The cause of the stiff breeze in Skegness. More work for the special effects team.

However, the film has its strong points too. Like “Gravity”, this is another special effects triumph with the scenes outside the ISS being gorgeously rendered. “Gravity” was a clear 10/10;  this is probably at least a 7, and a reason for seeing the film on the big screen. A key question though is why there wasn’t a 3D version of the film released? Heaven knows I’m no fan of 3D, but “Gravity” was one of the few films that was genuinely enhanced by the format: in fact it is currently the only 3D Blu-ray that I own!

LIFE5
In space noone can hear a baby scream. A new arrival for Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada)

In general, the whole film seems a little half-cocked and lacking in its own conviction. You wonder whether the production company (Skydance) got rather cold-feet about the film in releasing it when it did. Yes, “Deadpool” did very well with its February release, but this is a much more suitable film for a summer audience than a release in this post-Oscars doldrums.

In summary, its a moderately entertaining watch, but at heart just another retelling of the old ‘something nasty in the woodshed’ yarn that we’ve seen played out countless times before. Here though the swanky setting and special effects are diminished by a lack of credibility and consistency in the storytelling. Redemption was on hand though, for while it was heading for a middling 3-Fad rating, it managed to salvage another half Fad in the final 60 seconds:  a memorable movie ending that might prove hard to beat during 2017. 

Fad Rating:  FFFf.

Note:  this trailer is far less ‘spoilery’ than the other one I’ve seen, but still best avoided if you want to see the film in theatres.

Advertisements
Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Tail as old as Kline.

batb-poster

With the Disney marketing machine in full swing, its hard to separate the hype from the movie reality in this latest live-action remake of one of their classic animated features from 1991. If you are lucky enough to have children you will know that each child tends to have “their” Disney feature: for my second daughter (then 4) that film would be “Beauty and the Beast”. With a VHS video tape worn down to the substrate, this is a film I know every line of dialogue to (“I’m especially good at expectorating”). So seeing this movie was always going to be a wander down Nostalgia Avenue and a left turn into Emotion Crescent, regardless of how good a film it was. And so it proved. 

batb-6
A bit chilly for June. La Belle et la Bête – still distant but thawing.

Taking no chances with a beloved formula, most of the film is an almost exact frame-for-frame recreation of the original, with the odd diversion which, in the main, is to slot in new songs by original composer Alan Menken  with Tim Rice lyrics. For, unlike “La La Land” this is a proper musical lover’s musical with songs dropping in regularly throughout the running time. 

Which brings us to Emma Watson’s Belle. I’ve seen review comments that she ‘dials it in’ with a humourless and souless portrayal of the iconic bookworm. I can’t fathom what film those people were watching! I found Watson to be utterly mesmerising, confident and delightful with a fine (though possibly auto-tuned) singing voice. Her ‘Sound of Music’ moment (you’ll know the one) brought tears to my eyes. There are moments when her acting is highly reminiscent of Hermione Grainger, but this is about as crass a criticism as saying that Harrison Ford has done his “Knock it Off” snarl again.

batb-3
Enchanting. Emma Watson working hard to get away from her typecast role as a bookish nerd. Oh, er….

I even felt that the somewhat dodgy bestiality/Stockholm-syndrome thing, inherent in the plot, was deftly handled by her. Curiously (and I feel guilty for even thinking this) the only part I felt slightly icky about was the age difference evident in the final kiss between Watson (now 27) and the transformed beast (sorry if this is a TERRIBLE spoiler for you!) played by Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”):  even though with Stevens being only 35 this is only 8 years! I think the problem here is that it is still difficult for me to decouple the modern feminist woman that is Watson from the picture of the young Hermione as a schoolgirl in her first term at Hogwarts. (I know this is terrible typecasting, and definitely my bad, but that’s the way it is).

Stevens himself is fine as the cursed prince, albeit that most of his scenes are behind the CGI-created wet-rug that is the beast. Similarly, most of the supporting stars (Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts and an almost unrecognisable Stanley Tucci as the maestro Cadenza) are similarly confined to voice parts for the majority of the film. Kevin Kline is great as the supremely huggable Maurice. But the performances that really shine though are those of Luke Evans (“The Girl on the Train“) as the odiously boorish Gaston and Josh Gad (Olaf in “Frozen”) as his hilariously adoring sidekick LeFou. Much has been made of the gay Disney angle to this element of the story, most of which is arrant homophobic nonsense since the scenes are pretty innocuous. In fact the most adventurous ‘non-heterosexual’ aspect of the film, and a scene that raises by far the biggest laugh, relates to a completely different character.

batb-4
Hilarious. Gaity and laughter from Josh Gad as LeFou.

Most of the songs delivered in the film are OK without, in my view, surpassing the versions in the original. Only Dan Steven’s dramatic new song “Evermore”- as one of the few really new ‘full-length’ songs in the film – has ‘Oscar nomination’ written all over it. However, the film eschews the ‘live-filming’ approach to song production featured in recent musicals like “La La Land” and “Les Miserables”, with some degree of lip-sync evident. Whilst I understand that ‘imperfection’ is not a “Disney thing”, I found that lack of risk-taking a bit of a disappointment.

batb-1
We’ll always have Paris. A non-traditional interlude in the standard tale.

The makers of the original “Beauty and the Beast” would I’m sure have been bowled over by the quality of the special effects on show here. However, that was in 1991 and it is now 2017, when “The Jungle Book” has set the bar for CGI effects. By today’s standards, the special effects here are mediocre at best. I wondered at first if some of the dodgy green-screen work was delivered that way to make it seem more “cartoony”, but I doubt that – – why bother? More irritatingly, the animated chattels in the castle, especially the candlestick Lumière, are seriously unconvincing. Mrs Potts, the teapot, and her son Chip, the cup, are rendered as flat and two-dimensional. There should have been no shortage of money to thrown at the effects with a reported budget of $160 million. Where has the Disney magic gone? 

The film also seems to be rendered primarily for a 3D showing (I saw it in 2D). I say this because some of the panning shots (notably one around the library) to me just ended up as an unimpressive blur of mediocrity. Most odd.

batb-5
Unimpressed, but the kids won’t mind. The rather dodgy CGI of Lumiere and Cogsworth.

The director is Bill Condon responsible for the modestly well-respected but low-key “Dreamgirls” and “Mr Holmes” but also the much derided “Breaking Dawn” end to the “Twilight” series. As such this seems to have been quite a risk that Disney took with such a high profile property, and I would have been intrigued to see what a more innovative director like Chazelle or Iñárritu would have done with it.

However, despite my reservations it is bound to be a MONSTER hit in every sense of the word, and kids aged 5 to 10 will, I predict, absolutely adore it (be warned that kids under 5 may be seriously scared by some of the darker scenes, especially the two wolf-attacks). For a younger age group, I would rate it as an easy FFFFF.  As an adult viewer, given that I have viewed it through the rosy tint of my nostalgia-glasses (unfortunately you cannot hire these at the cinema if you haven’t brought your own!), this was an enjoyable watch. Despite my (more than expected!) slew of criticisms above my rating is still….

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Viceroy’s House (2017)

The 80:20 Rule.

VH-poster

India, 1947. Churchill’s government has sent Lord Grantham – –  sorry — Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma (Hugh Bonneville, “The Monuments Men“) as the new Viceroy. His mission is to make sure he is the last ever Viceroy, for India is to be returned to independence. But racial tensions between the Hindu and minority Muslim populations are brittle and deteriorating fast. Can India survive as a single country, or will Mountbatten be forced to partition the country along religious lines to avoid civil-war and countless deaths?

VH3
Plane dressing. Anderson, Bonneville and Travers putting the “up” in “dressing-up”.

Of course, there is little tension in this plot line since we know Pakistan was indeed founded by Muhammad Ali Jinnah (played by Denzil Smith) on August 14th 1947. (In reality, Jinnah’s victory was short lived as he died of TB the following year). The rest of India went on to be ruled by Jawaharlal Nehru (played by Tanveer Ghani). What the film does remind this generation of is the extreme cost of that partition, with riots, mass abductions and rapes, over a million estimated deaths and one of the biggest migrations of populations ever seen. (All of this is largely shown through original newsreel footage, which is effectively inter-weaved with the film).

VH1
OK, who ran round the back and was in the photo twice? (1960’s school photo joke. #limitedaudience!)

So as an educational documentary it is useful. However, as an entertaining movie night out? Not so much. After coming out of the film we needed to buy some milk at Tesco and I was put on the spot by the checkout lady to sum-up the film: “Worthy but dull” was what I came up with, which with further time to reflect still seems a good summary.

This shouldn’t have been the case, since the film is directed by the well-respected Gurinder Chadha (“Bend it like Beckham) and boasts a stellar cast, with Bonneville supported by Gillian Anderson (“The X Files”) as Lady Mountbatten; Michael Gambon (“Harry Potter”) as General Ismay (Mountbatten’s chief of staff); Simon Callow (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) as Radcliffe (the drawer of ‘the new map’); and Om Puri (“The Hundred Foot Journey“) as former political prisoner Ali Rahim Noor. Playing Mountbatten’s daughter is Lily Travers (“Kingsman: The Secret Service“): Virginia McKenna’s granddaughter.

VH4
Mountbatten and Jinnah, behind the candelabra.

But unfortunately, for me at least, the film lumbers from scene to scene, seldom engaging with me. Bonneville’s Mountbatten, whilst perfectly sound, was just a re-tread of Downton with added humidity and curry; Anderson’s (probably extremely accurate) crystal-glass English accent quickly becomes tiresome; and elsewhere a lot of the acting of the broader Indian cast is, I’m sorry to comment, rather sub-par. For me, only Om Puri, who sadly died in January, delivers an effective and moving performance as the blind father (literally) unable to see that the arranged marriage for his daughter Aalia (Huma Qureshi) is heading for trouble thanks to Mountbatten’s man-servant. And no, that isn’t a euphemism…. I’m talking about his real manservant, Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal)!!

As an aside, the late Puri (probably most famous in western cinema for “East is East”) has made over 270 feature films in his prolific career, over and above his many appearances on Indian TV. And he still has another 6 films to be released! May he rest in peace.

VH6
The late, great and very prolific Om Puri.

Probably realising that the historical plot is not enough to sustain the film, the screenwriters Paul Mayeda Berges (“Bend it like Beckham”), Moira Buffini (“Tamara Drewe”) and  Gurinder Chadha try to add more substance with the illicit romance between the Hindu Jeet and the Muslim Aalia. Unfortunately this is clunky at best, with an incessant 30 minutes-worth of longing looks before anything of substance happens. Even the “Lion“-style denouement (also with a railway train connection) is unconvincing.

VH5
“Do you wanna build a snowman”. Jeet and Aalia, carrying on near the Khyber.

After that, the film just tends to peter out, with a ‘real-life photograph’ segue delivering a rather tenuous connection between a character not even featured in the film and the director!

Mrs. Chadha has clearly corralled an army of extras to deliver some of the scenes in the film, in the hope of delivering a historical epic of the scale of Attenborough’s “Gandhi”. For me, she misses by a considerable margin. But that’s just my view….. if you like historical dramas, its a film you might enjoy:  as the great man himself said “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress”.

Fad Rating: FFf.

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Logan (2017)

“When the man comes around”

logan poster

At last – a superhero movie with real heart… (and not just the chunks over the knuckle blades!). Logan is a bit of a revelation. I was reluctant to go and see it, since a) I’m a lukewarm X-Men fan at best and b) I hadn’t seen either of the previous two Wolverine spin-off films. (Seeing the other Wolverine films, by the way, is not a pre-requisite for enjoying this one). After a long day at work, my choice was “Logan” or “Kong: Skull Island”. I voted for this one, and I’m so glad I did.
 
It’s now 2029. Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine, but this is not a Wolverine we have seen before. This is an aged and deteriorating superhero: his self-healing powers are waning; a limp is developing; and his fighting prowess (although still legendary) doesn’t show the stamina it once did. This is a Wolverine that is also an unlikely carer, looking after a mentally degenerating Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), now 90 years old and finding it increasingly difficult to keep his devastating mental superpowers under control. This is a Wolverine trying desperately to avoid the limelight, working diligently as a limo-driver in an effort to save money for the dream of buying a ‘Sunseeker’ and sailing off with Xavier into the sunset, gaining true anonymity among the boating fraternity.

logan 5
Hats off to the cinematographer, Engish-born John Mathieson, for some stunningly lit shots.

Life doesn’t play ball though. A brutal encounter with a gang on the highway outside El Paso advertises Wolverine’s presence and brings him into contact with a strange eleven-year-old girl (Dafne Keen) with impressive powers of her own. The girl is being pursued by a “reiver” (Boyd Holbrook, “Run all Night”) supported by a small private army. Against his will, Wolverine is forced into a memorable road trip with the old man and the young girl that leaves a trail of bloodied bodies behind them.
 
For, be warned, this is an *extremely* violent film, with much dismemberment and ‘blade work’ that must have kept the prosthetics department busy for months. It’s also quite emotionally brutal, particularly within a central segment set in a “Field of Dreams” style idyll (featuring Eriq La Salle from E.R.) that you know in your gut is not going to end with “Goodnight John Boy” pleasantries.

logan 4
Persil automatic was never going to get those stains out.

The well-choreographed and frenetic action within the road-trip segment reminded me at times of the harsh cinematography and dynamics of “Mad Max: Fury Road” – a great compliment.

But the film also takes time to pause, in uncharacteristic Marvel-ways, for character development and genuinely intelligent dialogue. These interludes allow the acting to shine, and it is first-rate. We all know (from “Les Miserables” for instance) that Hugh Jackman can act, but this is arguably his best-ever performance: a meaty role (he actually has two in the film) that affords him tremendous range and emotion. At one point towards the end of the film I thought “this has genuine Oscar show-reel potential”. He will surely never get nominated – a Marvel film?  Get Away! But wouldn’t it make a refreshing change if he was?  Recognizing good acting, regardless of the context.

Patrick Stewart is a great Shakespearean actor, and here he also gets given full rein to impress as he hasn’t had chance to in most of his movie roles to date. 

logan 7
Xavier (Patrick Stewart) desperately trying to stay in control of his powerful faculties.

Claiming the prize so far this year for the most unusual casting decision is Stephen Merchant as the albino helper Caliban, unrecognizable to me at first until he had some lengthy dialogue to flex his Bristol accent on! A non-comic and dramatic role, Merchant does really well with it.  

logan 2
A day off from Gervais…. the almost unrecognisable Stephen Merchant going in for extras.

Finally, I can’t leave the acting without doffing my cap to young Dafne Keen whose mesmerising feral stare would probably put the fear of God into every parent of a pre-teen girl!  Even though she has only a handful of lines, this is an impressive feature film debut. I predict we will see much more of this young lady.

logan 3
WHY SHOULD I DO MY HOMEWORK!! The impressive Dafne Keen, about to kick-ass.

Less convincing to me was Richard E Grant as the evil mastermind behind the scheme, who never quite seemed nasty enough to me to be believable: in one scene he could be calling back a dog that’s run off down the beach rather than desperately trying to gain control of an out of control situation!   
 
Directed by James Mangold (“Walk the Line”, “Knight and Day”), who co-wrote the piece with Scott Frank (“Minority Report”) and Michael Green (“Green Lantern”… yes, really!), this was a gritty and well constructed movie. If you can stomach the gore and the body count (I would see it as very lucky to have got away with its UK ’15’ certificate) this is a rollercoaster of a movie that is recommended.

By the way, to save you from sitting through the end titles (although you do get a Johnny Cash classic to enjoy) there is no “monkey” at the end of this Marvel film. (I’m no stranger to still be sitting there as the lights come up… but many of the crowd that were left looked vaguely embarrassed!) 

In terms of my rating, I’m not a fanboy for Marvel or DC properties, but here I award a rating I have only previously bestowed on two superhero films before:  the quirky “Ant Man” and the anarchic “Deadpool“….

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

 

 

 

Posted in On this Day in Movie History...

On this day in movie history: 14th March 1975

grail1
All he wants to do is Sing, Sing, Sing….

In 1975 Monty Python tried to make a proper movie (unlike their first film in 1971 which was just a loosely coupled revamp of some of their TV sketches). Everyone said they were daft to make a feature film, but they made it all the same, just to show them. It sank without trace. So they made a second one. And that one sank without trace too. So they made a third. That was panned by the critics and then sank without trace. But the fourth one they made was “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, first premiered on March 14th 1975. This premiere was not – as you might think – in England, but in Los Angeles. A comedy legend was born. 

The budget of the film was just £200,000 (so a BvS quotient of 0.08%!) comprising 10 principle investors among whom were the rock bands Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Genesis:  I’m sure they have made a tidy return on that investment over the years.

Apparently when they were touring to promote the film they were constantly asked what their next film would be, and at the Paris premiere Eric Idle joked that it would be “Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory.” So were sown the seeds for an even more successful and controversial film in the Monty Python canon: “Life of Brian” four years later.

Posted in On this Day in Movie History...

On this day in movie history: March 9th 2006

On March 9th 2006, the epic free-running crane scene from “Casino Royale” was filmed. 

By this point in the film we had already had Daniel Craig’s brutal black and white introduction to the role of 007 and a classic and memorable Bond song by Chris Cornell. But in this sequence (featuring world-class free-runner Sebastien Fourcan as the henchman Mollaka) the adrenaline meter went to 15 and as movie fans we were forced to consider that this might – just might – be the best Bond film ever made.

Posted in Film Review

On this day in movie history – March 8th 1998

Liz Taylor 1998

On March 8th 1998, the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards gave a lifetime achievement award to Elizabeth Taylor, star of such classic films as “National Velvet”, “Butterfield 8”, Cleopatra and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. 

The big winner on the night was “As Good as It Gets” with both Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt doing the double for Best Actor/Actress. Elsewhere Robin Williams picked up Best Supporting Actor for “Good Will Hunting” and (curiously) the Best Supporting Actress award was split between Kim Basinger for (“LA Confidential”, one of my favourite films of all time) and Gloria Stuart (as ‘Old Rose’ in “Titanic”).  With the exception of Gloria Stuart, all would go on to repeat their success at the Oscars in two week’s time.

The standout award at this event (which I have praised before) is the ensemble “Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture” award, and for 1998 that went to the British cast of “The Full Monty”. They resisted the urge though to strip onstage when accepting the award! 

Posted in Comment

One Mann’s Movies: Comment on “Movies That Made Me”

MTMM
Rachel McAdams talking about “Mean Girls” and “The Devil Wears Prada” on BBC 1’s “Movies the Made Me”.

Movie joy I found recently was a series of interviews called “Movies That Made Me” that Radio 1’s Ali Plumb has done with movie stars reviewing their past works. Some of them – notably Matt Damon and Emily Blunt – are really insightful and funny.

These are well worth a look if you are able to see the BBC iPlayer videos. (Ali is a very personable host and he can take over from Alex Zane on Sky Oscars any time!).

The index to the iPlayer is here.

Posted in On this Day in Movie History...

On this day in movie history…March 6th, 1927

metropolis
The inventor (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) admiring his creation (Brigitee Helm).

On this day in 1927, Fritz Lang’s extraordinary film “Metropolis” was first shown in the US. “Metropolis” can claim to be the first feature length science fiction film. Set in 2026 (so we still have 9 years to get it right!) the film’s actress Brigitte Helm plays the heroine Maria as well as her robot doppelganger, with the robot’s creation creating one of the most iconic images in cinema history.  

Lang appears to have been both a tyrant and a perfectionist in getting the film he wanted. Legend has it that he half drowned and totally froze his crowd of Berlin extras and his insistence on using real fire led to Helm’s dress actually catching fire in the scene in which she was burned at the stake!

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Patriot’s Day (2017)

A Marathon Investigation.

pd-poster

While there are predictable social media conspiracy theories that the “whole thing was a hoax”, the two bombs that went off near the finish line of the Boston marathon on April 15th 2013 killed three members of the public and injured more than 250 others. It was a life-changing event for those people and their immediate families, but sadly nothing more than a small footnote in the global story of car bombs and suicide missions that have killed and maimed thousands and thousands of people in war-stricken countries around the world in recent years. It’s a point not lost on the scriptwriters of “Patriot’s Day”, the new film by Peter Berg (“Deepwater Horizon“). In an America where press freedom seems to be under increasing threat, the film refreshingly provides room for reflecting the antagonists’ views, twisted and barking as they may be, and the film is better for that. 

PD2
Local knowledge. Walking the virtual route: one of the more effective parts of the movie, with Bacon, Wahlberg and Goodman.

Mark Wahlberg (“Deepwater Horizon“, “Ted”) plays senior Boston homicide cop Tommy Saunders. He’s on menial duties after a past indiscretion, but has just one last day stewarding the finish line of the Boston marathon before being allowed off the ‘naughty step’ by his boss, Commisioner Ed Davis (John Goodson). Saunders is seen off to work by his wife (Michelle Monaghan, Mrs. Hunt from the Mission Impossible films) but his dull day’s work is not going to go as planned thanks to the fanatical Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) and his compliant but bullied brother Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff). The pair plant the bombs along Boylston Street, wreaking havoc on American soil, and a massive man-hunt ensues that will see other lives impacted irrevocably before it’s over.

“That someone in the crowd” – Michelle Monaghan as Carol Saunders.

The storytelling is reminiscent of 70’s films like “Airport” and “The Towering Inferno” in introducing us to a wide range of characters at the start of the film, without knowing how they will later be placed into the jigsaw. Examples are Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese  (J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash“, “La La Land“) of the Watertown police department who gets unexpectedly drawn into the action when chaos descends on his sleepy Boston neighborhood, and Chinese student Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang in a film debut) who has an unbelievable story of first-hand contact with the bombers. 

Leading the FBI investigation is Richard DesLauriers (the prolific Kevin Bacon). Unfortunately I always muddle up Bacon with Wahlberg (it must be something about the facial features) so it’s not helpful having them in the same film! 

pd4
Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (JK Simmons) gets more action than he’s used to in Watertown.

Even though I knew (albeit vaguely) all of the details of the bombing and the subsequent events, the film successfully made me feel tense throughout. Some of the set-piece action sequences – particularly the showdown in Watertown – are particularly well done. Given the number of rounds of ammo let off and the home-made grenades being lobbed, it is astounding that dozens of officers were not killed. The film is highly respectful towards the victims of the atrocity, with one of the most moving moments of the film being a silent vigil over one of the victims by a State Trooper (Billy Donahue).

PD3
Taking stock of events: PTS for Saunders.

Wahlberg in particular gives a great performance, with his emotional post-traumatic breakdown scene with Monaghan being his best acting performance in years. However, it is Wahlberg’s character that is my major problem with the film. Unlike most of the other characters, who are based on their real-life counterparts, Tommy Saunders is a fictional composite of multiple real-life police officers, and his involvement in each and every part of the drama strained credibility to breaking point for me. It would have been far more effective, in my view, to stick nearer to reality and have a range of other cameos step into those roles.

pd5
Extraordinary how one man can always be in the right place at the right time. The omni-present Mark Wahlberg.

There is a tendency (for this British viewer at least) for the film to overreach with its stirring patriotic message in the closing scenes, and there was the predictable trotting out of the ‘real life’ photos and videos in the finale, albeit that some of these are movingly portrayed. Apart from those reservations, this is a solidly well-made piece of docufiction that is enjoyable throughout.

pd1
Lollipop man. Walhberg’s Saunders, with just one last day of penance.

Just a warning to sensitive viewers that there are obviously some scenes of bodily injury included:  if grading on as scale where “Hacksaw Ridge” is a 10 and “Saving Private Ryan” an 8, then “Patriot’s Day” would rate about a 7. 

Fad Rating: FFFF.