Patriots Day is the story of the events surrounding the 2013 Boston marathon bombing and how multiple law enforcement agencies and the people of Boston worked together to catch the perpetrators. This is the third collaboration between director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg that retells a tragic event and sends a powerful message of the endurance of the human spirit. That should make a great movie, right? Not always.
This movie was marketed as surrounding Mark Wahlberg as fictional cop Tommy Saunders, and retelling the bombing itself, as well as the events before and after. But what most of the audience might not know is that the movie focuses on the lives of several real-life people who were either severely injured in the bombing or were involved in the ensuing manhunt. Some people will see these parts of the movie as distracting or boring. These side characters are husband and wife Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, the former of whom lost his left leg while both of Kensky’s legs were amputated due to extensive damage, Dun Meng, a young Asian man who was carjacked by the Tsarnaev brothers, and Sean Collier, the MIT officer who was murdered by them bombers. Their stories are told in a decent manner, and while they are necessary to the movie, the way their scenes were edited into the flow of the film could have been better. Before the bombing, we spend a few minutes with Wahlberg arresting a man for assault, and then we switch to Downes and Kensky, then Meng, and finally, Collier. All of their scenes are so short, and they never have any substance to them, save for Downes and Kensky, who are focused on for the sole purpose of showing how strong the human spirit is in a tragedy. Meng and Collier are not important until we see how they were involved in the manhunt. It is understandable to build these people as likable and the filmmakers want you to feel something as they are threatened or murdered by the bombers, but we did not need to spend as much time on Meng and Collier.
An event such as the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers should feel suspenseful and full of tension. A perfect example of this in a film, albeit throughout a much larger time period, is Zero Dark Thirty. While Patriots Day does flow in a solid manner, a lot of the scenes that are not the most pivotal are brief, devoid of suspense and feel rather dry. To fill up this movie’s 133-minute runtime, there had to be scenes such Saunders going around neighborhoods, asking if anyone saw anything at the marathon, him arguing with Agent DesLauriers, and Dzhokhar’s classmates asking each other if they’ve seen him or what they should do with his weed. Most of these scenes, especially the last one, don’t have much substance and are only included in the movie so the audience can be told every aspect of the entire event, even if some of them are not all that important to the story.
The most energy displayed by anyone other than Mark Wahlberg outside of the violence is over whether to release a grainy picture of the bombers before a news outlet does. John Goodman (Police Commissioner Ed Davis) and Kevin Bacon (Special FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers) are arguing in a room full of people and an agent comes to DesLauriers with Fox News’ ultimatum of releasing the leaked picture in 30 minutes. DesLauriers is portrayed as someone who seems to make decisions under pressure. After everyone has been evacuated from the bomb site, Davis is practically demanding that DeLauriers classifies the attack as terrorism, and the latter says, “I won’t say it’s terrorism unless I know it is.” Then three seconds later, after he takes one look at a puddle of blood, DesLauriers says, “It’s terrorism,” eliminating the need for what Davis said. Then when he hears what Fox News said, DesLauriers decides to release the picture. It was a character flaw and for the person who was leading the investigation, he should have been portrayed better.
OK, that’s enough negatives. While most of the acting is passable, the standout performances come from Wahlberg and Themo Melikidze as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, older brother of Dzhokhar and mastermind of the bombing. Wahlberg as Saunders clearly cares about his city, the victims, his wife, Carol (Michelle Monaghan), and catching the perpetrators. Just like in Lone Survivor, which is also directed by Peter Berg, Wahlberg’s performance is fueled by passion for what is right and stopping the bad guy. He has a great scene with Monaghan the day after the bombing; he was up all night, going around the city, all the while overwhelmed with grief, bloody images, and the thought of the authorities leaving the body of eight-year-old Martin Richard where he died at the finish line. He is wracked with exhaustion and emotions, and Wahlberg exhibits it perfectly. A side of the story of the brothers is that Tamerlan manipulated his little brother into carrying out the bombing and he was the one who was fully devoted in his radicalism. Melikidze channels the drive and cruelty of an evil man so flawlessly that he could have been portrayed just like the real Tamerlan. Every time he is on screen, he is a force to be reckoned with whether he is planting the bomb with such a cold expression, not caring about who would die, or ordering Dzhokhar to escape to New York and “finish the job.” Melikidze probably should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor in at least one award ceremony. Unfortunately, every other actor in this movie, even John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, and J.K. Simmons of all people, deliver passable performances, despite Simmons having a couple of funny one-liners.
Finally, I have to talk about the standout scene of the entire movie: the shootout in Watertown. This scene might be a little too long, but it is filled to the brim with tension, violence, and determination from both the police and the bombers. Bombs are going off everywhere, cops are pulling their wounded officers from the line of fire, and bullets are flying left and right. You are rooting for the police to succeed the whole time, even though you know it doesn’t end here. When Tamerlan gets tackled by police and is finally run over accidentally by his own brother, you feel a great sense of satisfaction, which is only enhanced by Melikidze’s remarkable performance that makes him so hatable. What is great about this scene is that the audience gets so much catharsis because it shows the ultimate battle between good and evil on American soil of our time. You are rooting for the police to succeed because it depicts them doing their job: protecting the community and working together to catch criminals.
In the end, Patriots Day left me with the same taste as Lone Survivor-deeply impacted by a real-life tragedy involving Americans, but not impressed from a filmmaking perspective. You should see Patriots Day at some point in your life, but its impact will be all the same whether you see it in the theater or at home. C+
“A lot of people tend to chew up the scenery. I’m a firm believer in less is more, especially on the big screen.”-Mark Wahlberg
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Coming up next: M. Night Shyamalan’s Split