Release: 26th June 2017
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
In the aftermath of an unspeakable act of terror, Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) joins courageous survivors, first responders and investigators in a race against the clock to hunt down the bombers before they strike again.
In an eerie reflection of Christopher Morris’ 2010 satirical comedy Four Lions, on 15th April 2013, as families and athletes crossed and celebrated at the finish line of the Boston marathon, two bombs exploded in quick succession nearby. This act of terror took three lives, caused numerous injuries and shook a nation to its core. In the days that followed this horrific incident, a manhunt took place that would involve murder, kidnap, gunfights, the death of one suspect and the arrest of another. Patriots Day is the story of that manhunt.
The first, and probably most, problematic thing about Peter Berg’s heartfelt film is that it sees itself as a symbol of healing. It celebrates law enforcement and rallies a cry of “Boston Strong!” But what it forgets to do is recognise that for the people of Boston, healing has came after the fact not during its development. What Patriots Day wants to be and what it actually is, are to very different things. Similar to the recent terror attack at London Bridge – where people seemed to think images of would-be victims fleeing with a pint in their hands, or shouting “Oy-oy!” while rugby tackling their attackers – somehow lessened the severity and tragedy of what happened, there is a bullish sense of defiance and almost celebration in punching the proverbial bully in his jaw. Patriots Day is the cinematic equivalent of wiping blood from your lip and stepping back in the ring. This is a wonderful ode to the American public, and encapsulates the fighting Bostonian spirit, but it is far from the candlelight vigil or soul cleanse it hopes to be. The fact that the film holds so close to the facts of such a tragic and recent event, makes it difficult to stomach. People need a grieving process, even when trying to stand strong; but Patriots Day feels like an external perspective, with someone joining the fray and declaring war.
When watched as a spiritual cousin to Berg’s earlier work, The Kingdom, Patriots Day makes a lot more sense. This is not a civilian level perspective of something horrific, but rather an emotionally charged procedural action movie. There may be ‘everyday’ people in Patriots Day, but not a one of them are ordinary. Everyone on display here is a hero of sorts. From Mark Whalberg’s awkwardly fictional Sergeant Tommy Saunders, who seems to be in all the right places at all the right times, to real life character Dun Meng who’s near death interaction with the Tsarnaev brothers provides one of the more tense moments in a Berg film to date. True to life, there is a palpable sense of anger and impatience in law enforcement when someone bad does something awful, and Berg has bottled that here. The immediacy of what needed to be done and the want and will to do it from cops, government agents and the army, runs deep through the film’s DNA. In short, Patriots Day is a law enforcement take on the events that unfolded in those 4 days, in both example and tone.
From a filmmaking perspective, Berg’s direction is sound. He captures the frenzy of the bombing, and the frustration of all that followed. Berg’s films always have a heart-on-it’s-sleeve quality, and Patriots Day is likely the most overt example of this. The film is tough and oozing with masculinity, but it is also about love, loss and family. Wahlberg does a decent job in providing eyes for the viewer and John Goodman shares a strong chemistry with Kevin Bacon’s Special Agent DesLauriers; who in spite of his clear smarts, has the whiff of a coward in comparison to his gun toting colleagues. The Tsarnaev’s are played with ruthless cowardess, and show little sense of dimension beneath the surface. But in a world that sees a growing number of these individuals who kill and maim innocent citizens, what purpose would Patriots Day serve in trying to humanise them, right?
The film did fairly poorly at the box office, which speaks volumes about public opinion on the seemingly premature nature of its development (United 93, a project of a similar nature but with a 5-year gap between incident and release, made 5 times its budget). It would, however, be unfair to say Patriots Day doesn’t deserve more. Given a bit of time to gain distance from the events of 2013, Patriots Day may find more love from the home release market. Because for all its brazen anger and on the nose – erm – patriotism, this truly is a love letter to the people of Boston and a tremendous middle finger to terrorists worldwide.
Film Grade: C+
A variety of features make up what proves to be a tidy focus on the real life event and people who inspired the film. Some features such as the one-on-one interviews with the actors and their true-life counterparts are recycled to some extent in the wider arching behind the scenes stuff. But in general, this is a nice continuation of what was a clearly a very personal and emotionally charged filmmaking experience. Note; Peter Berg calling one of the Tsarnaev’s, “a f**king piece of s**t”, is definitely on the more colorful sides of a special feature.
Special Features Grade: B-
Who knows, with a bit of time Patriots Day may prove to be more than the sum of its parts. But for now, it sits in that awkward place of being neither smart enough to warrant celebrating, or edgy enough to garner attention.
Overall Grade: C+