Major and mini-major film studios aren’t exactly renowned for their sensitivity. Didn’t Sony acquire the rights to the authorised Steve Jobs autobiography a week after his death? The scars of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing barely healed before studios jumped on the chance to produce Patriots Day: a dramatization of its events. The film’s release hasn’t come without any criticism either. While there isn’t a precise point in time where it becomes acceptable to a release a film of this kind, its box office debut comes less than four years after the marathon bombing. But even more surprising than the insensitive release date, is the film itself which defies expectations beyond belief. We’re not subjected to great big displays of American patriotism and it doesn’t wave the American flag in our faces like an overly enthusiastic Wimbledon spectator. Of course there is the odd trickle of patriotism here and there but it certainly won’t be joining IMDb’s list of ‘Hollywood’s Most Patriotic Movies’.
For the first thirty minutes of the film, director Peter Berg is a bit like a cheap PVA glue: he can’t stick to anything. In the blink of an eye he switches from shaky handheld shots to smooth tracking shots and back again. Perhaps Berg was attempting to shoot in the style of a docudrama but his execution falls flat and ends up looking more like a shoddy home movie. Editors Colby Parker Jr. and Gabriel Fleming do little to save him; in fact their disjointed editing makes his sloppy work look even sloppier. The inclusion of real CCTV and news footage increases the film’s authenticity, but this is overshadowed by Parker Jr. and Fleming carelessly bunging this footage and Berg’s footage together. If you were to disregard the first thirty minutes,- which you should do for a number of reasons- Patriots Day plays out more like a crime drama rather than a biopic. It’s tense, slick and transfixing. It shifts away entirely from the first section of the film, almost like it was shot and edited by a completely new crew. Either that, or Berg, Parker Jr. and Fleming decided to put on their big boy boots and do the story some justice. It pains me to say it but thus far, it’s one the best films I’ve seen this year.
It stars Marky Mark aka Mark Wahlberg. He slips into his familiar insubordinate cop role and plays detective Tommy Saunders. Thankfully, the film doesn’t depict him as a lone hero, saving everyone single handed. This is probably due to Tommy Saunders being a fictional character, although for whatever reason he does appear in almost every scene, yet he adds nothing to them. The same can be said for Kevin Bacon, who plays an FBI agent and J. K. Simmons, who plays a police sergeant. The two do portray real people but they add little to nothing to the plot. Simmons’ role is perhaps the most unnecessary of them all, he pops up every twenty minutes for all of sixty seconds before disappearing again and at one point, starts shooting his gun from the hip like a cowboy. The only real standouts are Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze who play the bombers. They are brilliant onscreen and out-act Wahlberg by far.
Patriots Day isn’t an exploitation of the attack nor is it a glorification of the injuries sustained as a result. So if you’re one of the few who were hoping for an extremely detailed blow-by-blow of the tragic bombing, complete with close-ups of severed limbs and gushing wounds, Patriots Day will severely disappoint. The explosion itself is rather lack lustre and its direct aftermath is only shown for a couple of minutes. The film’s focus is on the four day search for brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the two responsible for the attack, but the story starts the day before the marathon. It’s told from the perspective of those who were immediately affected by the bombing and its aftermath, including the brothers. It doesn’t have an America the Beautiful agenda, an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ agenda, an Islamaphobic agenda, or any real agenda as a matter of fact. It’s simply a day by day account of the days preceding and succeeding the marathon bombing.
My geographical upbringing doesn’t entitle me to speak on behalf of Boston and state: ‘It’s a film that would make Bostonians proud’, but what I can confidently say, without fear of being mocked, is that Patriots Day is a tasteful tribute. The film ends with interviews of the actual marathon survivors, they promote the idea of love rather than hate. Some might consider this a bit cliché, but after watching such an emotionally driven film, it was nice to end it on a message of unity and positivity.