A Marathon Investigation.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.