Director - Peter Berg
Cast - Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, JK Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff
Rating - 3.5/5
As the city of Boston came to a standstill in April 2013, pushed to the brink of martial law by the marathon bombings; and as the police descended upon the neighbouring Watertown, combing every street, knocking on every door, and lifting the lid off every trash can as a race-against-time manhunt drew to a close, a thrilling thought crossed my mind. As convoys of armoured vehicles trundled down suburban Massachusetts lanes, and as cellphone footage of a street-level gunfight was uploaded by its residents onto Twitter, I thought: This could be a movie.
That it would become one just three short years later, the wounds still raw and the memories still painful, was something perhaps no one could have predicted. But Patriots Day, the third in the spiritual trilogy of true-life tales of heroism by director Pete Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, uses this rawness and this uncertainty to its advantage.
Like Paul Greengrass’ United 93, which came out just five years after 9/11, it is concerned more with the immediacy of the event than the distractions of politics and bureaucracy that would have surely played an important behind-the-scenes part in the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers. Given more time to heal, this would be a very different film, but right now, as it stands, it is in its purest form, unadulterated by time, perspective, and agenda.
Like Berg and Wahlberg’s previous couple of collaborations – Lone Survivor and the very recent Deepwater Horizon – Patriots Day is a ground-level telling of a story that could essentially have been told in a hundred different ways. Nearly every scene in it, it seems, is punctuated with a moment designed solely to get the audiences riled up in anger and joy. It wears its heart on its sleeve and is a crowd pleaser in the vein of some of our own mainstream movies, but more graceful in its belligerence.
As one would expect, an event like the Boston bombing would have several moving parts, and Berg, with his team of writers, employs the ensemble approach, introducing characters that were in some way connected to the tragedy without ever revealing exactly how. So when their time finally comes – often in surprising ways – it is reinforced with a carefully told backstory, just enough for us to care about them. Everyone, even the two bombers – and this is possibly as controversial as that unfortunate Rolling Stone cover that unnecessarily lionised Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – is given their due.
Leading the cast, of course, is Mark Wahlberg, who’s really at his best playing blue-collar, working class heroes, and cops (think We Own the Night, The Yards, The Departed). His Sergeant Tommy Saunders is perhaps the only main character that is entirely fictitious. He is both our surrogate, there to guide us through the interweaving threads of the plot, and the everyman hero who represents every cop, every aid worker, every first responder, and every victim who was involved in the events of that day. And surrounding him is a supporting cast made up of some of the finest character actors to ever perform on screen – John Goodman, JK Simmons and Kevin Bacon.
Towards the end of the film, just before its final act of soaring emotion (heightened by a distinct Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross score), his character delivers a monologue on love and hate that could not have been more relevant for our times. President Trump would no doubt disagree with this, but the Boston bombing was an act of domestic, homegrown terrorism. The Tsarnaevs didn’t receive special al-Qaeda training, they weren’t radicalised in Pakistan; one of them in fact, was little more than a slacker. But they were terrorists. And they were, for better or for worse, Americans.
But for Trump, a man who took more than a week to acknowledge the shooting of two Indians in a Kansas bar, and even then, he called it a hate crime, they were just some ‘bad dudes’ who could probably have been kept out with a large wall paid for by the Chechens.