In the new film ‘Patriots Day,’ filmmaker Peter Berg subjects the audience to terrifying sequences of events that unfolded in April of 2013, the infamous Boston Marathon Bombing and its’ aftermath as authorities worked tirelessly to track down its’ perpetrators. These scenes are extremely effective due to both their impeccably realistic, verite, you-are-there staging, as well as evoking thoughts and feelings of a general populace that recalls the riveting coverage in detail. No one can forget the eerie shots of a city in shutdown, gripped in fear, as they waited indoors for the collective nightmare to be over. It’s the scenes between these all too familiar horrors, populated by undeveloped characters in this movie, that really don’t work or resonate well.
Director, and sometime character actor, Berg, has had a recent string of films based on true-life tales of American heroism starring Mark Wahlberg (‘Lone Survivor,’ ‘Deepwater Horizon’). In a strange turn, the screenplay for ‘Patriots Day’ sort of hinges on the character played by Wahlberg – Tommy Saunders, a amalgam of multiple accounts relayed by police officers during that fateful moment and the subsequent sleepless days that followed. Tommy, plagued by a knee injury and a vague temporary demotion, is not only at the finish line during the marathon, he is instrumental in figuring out the security camera marked paths of the poorly established brother terrorists, and even in discovering the final location of the younger bomber in a tarp covered boat on a Watertown residence. This actually provides a distraction to the solid work of a number of actors (John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons) playing real life men and women who were instrumental in running the investigation and played key roles in the inevitable violent confrontation, which marks another expertly staged moment in the film.
‘Patriots Day’ is an effective retelling dramatization of events that are indelibly etched in the collective memories of Americans, but it provides little insight beyond the 24-hour coverage so prevalent at the time. The scenes unfold with the dread of knowing what is going to happen to these poor victims, a difficult experience to say the least. The film is interspersed with real footage of many of the events, including an extended epilogue where the film’s real life counterparts speak about the resilience of a city and the personal impact this situation had on them. It is in these moments where the film’s message becomes clearer, to the degree that one wishes the focus would have been on these individuals’ inspiring roads to recovery and a city’s refusal to break in the face of the unspeakable . . .
Directed By: Peter Berg
Written By: Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer
Running Time: 133 min.
* * 1/2 (out of 4 stars) -OR- B-