Anchors (Out of Four):
First, I owe an apology to my loyal readers. I know you all expect consistent reviews, and I expect to deliver them, but what I could never expect is for my computer’s hard drive to suddenly stop functioning. This review was a work in progress when my Thinkpad decided to stop thinking, but here it is presented to you in its entirety.
Now, on to “Patriots Day.”
I’ve seen a lot of explosions throughout my movie-watching career, but I don’t think I’ve ever reacted the way I did in the theater when two bomb blasts rocked director Peter Berg’s (“Lone Survivor,” “Deepwater Horizon”) near-perfect recreation of the 2013 Boston Marathon. I felt a pit in my stomach as I witnessed the carnage, and tears welled in my eyes as I watched the aftermath. While the Oscar nominees have already been announced and “Patriots Day” failed to make the cut, this scene ought to get at least some recognition for being able to stimulate such a reaction out of what was a silent and shocked audience in my theater.
Berg, as noted in his credits above, specializes in creating movies based on dramatic events in recent history, and has partnered with Mark Wahlberg (“The Italian Job,” “Ted”) on all of those films. In “Patriots Day,” both are at the top of their game.
Wahlberg plays Sgt. Tommy Saunders, a composite of real police officers who worked at the scene of the marathon bombing and who pursued the bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev through the Boston suburbs. His delivery is provocative and emotional, but more than that, he serves as a sort of guide, bringing viewers an on-the-ground look at the lives of the real-life heroes – both victims and police – who lived through the tragedy.
For Berg’s part, he brings in the nuances and extraneous details of select victims’ lives, days and hours before the bombings. We’re treated to a surrealistically pleasant group of lives, only increasing the traumatic effect that the bombing has as it shatters this façade.
A moment to digress and address some of the criticism regarding this film. I’ve heard multiple Bostonians tell me they don’t like the movie pouring salt into wounds that have still not fully healed, or expressing concerns that the film is rewriting history before the younger Tsarnaev, who continues to sit on Death Row, has met his fate.
Both of these are valid concerns, but those same Bostonians – at least the ones I’ve spoken to – haven’t seen the film yet. The fact is, “Patriots Day” is extremely respectful to both the victims of the bombings and the city of Boston. At no point did I feel as though it was jingoistic or that it failed to address the complexity of the issue at hand.
The reality is that “Patriots Day” provides us one of the most dramatic tales of the year (even though the audience knows what’s going to happen.) It’s backed up by adequate cinematography that draws together a host of narratives and viewing angles to add to the disorder experienced in the movie’s events. The hunt for the bombers and subsequent shootout in the streets of Watertown is exciting while maintaining much of the truth of the real story.
And, characters such as Officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking) and Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) shine as their respective actors allow us to admire the heroic deeds of their real-life counterparts. Indeed, with Simmons, Kevin Bacon, and John Goodman as part of the supporting cast, this film sports enough cinematic talent for an Oscar-worthy picture, and I’m disappointed that it failed to get a nomination in the vein of an “American Sniper” or “Argo”-type nod.
Regardless, you should go see this movie, even if you have no interest in the original event. It’s compelling drama, but beyond that it’s the sort of patriotic movie that we didn’t see much of in 2016, and is vaguely reminiscent of post-9/11 Bush-era films such as “United 93” (2006). There are heroes and villains in “Patriots Day,” with very few shades of grey.
While this commitment to patriotism overshadows some of the controversial news coverage in the wake of Boston’s state of near-martial law after the bombing, I did not find the film lacking, and I thus feel comfortable affording it this column’s highest possible ranking. “Patriots Day” is a well-made film that evoked more emotion in this viewer than any other since I started writing these reviews, and for that reason, I give it two anchors down.