Release: Friday, January 13, 2017
Written by: Peter Berg; Matt Cook; Joshua Zetumer
Directed by: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg; Kevin Bacon; John Goodman; J.K. Simmons; Michelle Monaghan; Alex Wolff
The latest in Peter Berg’s identikit tributes to American heroes deals with the events and aftermath of the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that resulted in three deaths and the injury of at least 280 others when two separate explosions occurred at the finish line. The end result is a harrowing, emotional saga that provides audiences ground floor access to what has been widely considered the worst act of terror committed on American soil since September 11, 2001.
The film, so named after the Massachusetts state holiday that commemorates the anniversary of the first battles of the American Revolution, finds Berg once again channeling his own reverence for the stars and stripes through the universally adored Boston-born Mark Wahlberg, who plays an amalgam of real BPD personnel in Sergeant Tommy Saunders. It is an action thriller of masculine construction and appropriate intonations — even if Berg is occasionally overbearing in the way he stresses the importance of honoring the resilience of communities like Boston who have responded to acts of hatred with gestures of love and compassion and unity.
Patriots Day is as adept at championing the human spirit as it is timely. I could have sworn only yesterday this was a trending topic. Few actors feel more of the zeitgeist than Marky-Mark. It’s also no accident we have a police commissioner portrayed by the reliable but distractingly famous John Goodman and an FBI special agent played by Kevin “Serious Face” Bacon. Michelle Monaghan (arguably less visible than every one of her co-stars) plays Wahlberg’s equally fictional wife. Even the humble Watertown sarge who gets his five minutes of fame is rendered by the likes of J.K. Simmons. There’s a lot of heavy air and the script’s clunky, yet several of Hollywood’s heavyweights do not disappoint.
But out of the bunch, only Wahlberg seems truly connected to the material, as reflected in a performance that ranks among his most emotional. But, and somewhat ironically, in order to actually justify the existence of the character/to give the actor something more to do than simply stand around Looking Official, Berg crowbars in a redemptive arc for the recently disgraced Tommy Saunders. Facing punishment having demonstrated insubordination towards his superiors he finds himself working crowd control at the finish line. By the end of the exhaustive, citywide manhunt that consumes much of the film’s second half, he will have played a substantial role in bringing the bad guys to justice. The invention is almost shamelessly predictable.
Wahlberg’s not always the focus, even if he seems to be at just the right place at every critical moment. Several threads develop to varying degrees of success throughout. A young couple who start the day happy wind up in different area hospitals simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time; a father standing feet away from the blast becomes desperate having been separated from his infant son. A Watertown police sergeant becomes the proverbial last sheriff standing in the way of the outlaw Tsarneav brothers, while an Asian MIT student lives to tell about the night he was carjacked at gunpoint. An interrogator feigns Muslim beliefs to get a suspect to talk. Each of these harrowing stories carry weight, however they invariably take a backseat to Saunders’ improbable ubiquity.
Those called upon to bear the burden of portraying terrorists deserve unique recognition. The Georgia-born Themo Melikidze portrays the older and nastier Tamerlan Tsarnaev as an extremist who cannot be reasoned with. He is a problem. The actor fully embodies evil and often dishes the most punishing sequences of discomfort Patriots Day offers up. Meanwhile Melissa Benoist challenges herself in the role of Katherine Russell, a white woman thought to have been radicalized by Tamerlan, her husband. (As of the publication of this review no charges have been brought against Russell, who apparently now lives a quiet life in New Jersey.)
Patriots Day is often confronting stuff. Adrenaline spikes frequently arise throughout this potent recreation of a dark day in American history. It’s also nothing if not familiar, as the ‘Bergs’ at this point now feel like a package deal. The director’s tribute to the people of Boston is his third consecutive tribute to bravery and resiliency and it is probably his most cohesive and balanced. Though I can’t help but feel the looming shadow of Hollywood distracts a little too much from the reality of what it means to be Boston Strong.
Moral of the Story: Sincere, intense and passionately acted, Patriots Day is a certifiable crowd-pleaser that serves as Peter Berg’s most solidly crafted tribute to human resilience in several outings. Mark Wahlberg’s great performance makes the watch worthwhile as do a number of convincing turns by famous people playing less famous Bostonians.
Running Time: 133 mins.
Quoted: “We got multiple explosions. We need help down here!”
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