Lionsgate’s new film Patriot’s Day chronicles the tragic 2013 Boston Marathon bombing by weaving a long, strong narrative through the actual footage throughout the entire film. Director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg join forces again and deliver a carefully constructed account anchoring the film with the portrayal of Boston Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders.
As Tommy, actual Boston-native Wahlberg conveys his endless challenges with a knee injury while demonstrating his knowledge of the city, especially in a key investigation sequence that’s a definite highlight. Wahlberg impresses with his expanding acting skills while he makes the relentless physical requirements look easy.
Michelle Monaghan (Mission Impossible III, Pixels, TV’s True Detective) co-stars as Tommy’s wife Carol who is also a registered nurse. She gets decent screen time and supports Tommy well.
Casting and their close likeness to the person they portray becomes an important element here as filmmakers splice in the real footage throughout the centering story line that follows Tommy with subplots of the nearby Watertown Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, played by J.K. Simmons, and a young Boston area resident named Dun Meng, played by Jimmy O. Yang (TV’s Silicon Valley) in an impressive performance filled with powerful emotions.
The law enforcement side of the story features Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and to a lesser extent Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Vincent Curatola) and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach). Filmmakers mistakenly keep Goodman off camera when he answers an emotional question from a colleague while they’re walking. It’s likely an editing issue, but also punctuates the extra development/screen time he needed beyond just being the guy in charge giving important orders.
Rachel Brosnahan (Netflix’s House of Cards) and Christopher O’Shea (TV’s Madam Secretary) play a couple at the marathon event while Khandi Alexander (TV’s CSI: Miami, Scandal) plays a special interrogator. This couple also provides a personal conduit for audiences to pull themselves emotionally close to the victims’ experiences.
More character development would be great here, but filmmakers have to move the plot along. Like Berg’s recent oil rig disaster film Deepwater Horizon, these events deserve an expanded mini-series treatment just to know the real people better, but the film still covers the material well.
The camaraderie among law enforcement characters is portrayed well as they help victims and then investigate the attacks and finally track down the two suspects before they strike again. The cast and crew really succeed with connecting the audience to naturally relatable characters who are pulled out of their normal lives into extreme situations. Audiences will find themselves asking “what would I do?” long after they leave the theater. One of Tommy’s discussions near the film’s end hits an especially poignant note making audiences analyze their own views.
All these characters carefully make decisions while filmmakers consider several perspectives in each thrilling scenario. The unnerving logic and justification from the antagonistic Tsarnaey brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan portrayed by Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze, might bother audiences more than the actual terrorism. Melissa Benoist (TV’s Supergirl) portrays Tamerian’s wife Katherine.
A few dialogue lines meant to provide comic relief (“I gotta quit smoking”) should have just been omitted out of respect for the tragic events. The plot could have reached an even deeper level. For example, audiences hear about Katherine’s “strength and submission” balancing act as a Muslim wife, but do not actually see any effective instances in earlier sequences.
The suspense can reach high levels, but is partially alleviated if audiences remember specific details of the actual events. Camera movements also create raw audience emotion, especially one sequence near the end where close-ups jump back into a tense, wide shot where danger seems imminent.
Berg and his crew even include deeply personal sequences like characters honoring the Newton school tragedy. Audiences get such a strong sense of this community’s history and current morale. It all deepens the effects of the actions then the tragic results and resolutions play out on the screen.
Another highlight sequence puts audiences right on the street that shows all sides of a relentless firefight featuring some incredible stuntwork and hand-held camera shots. Audiences feel like they’re fighting for their life right with law enforcement.
Nine Inch Nails’ front man Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide amazing music that enhances the suspense and situational intensity as they deliver their first musical score for a film not directed by David Fincher. Many sequences contain no music then filmmakers carefully insert these effective, haunting movements at just the right moments.
This two-hour and three-minute film ends with a coda featuring actual interview footage from the real people involved and personal homages of the deceased – three people and a MIT campus police officer.
Patriot’s Day completes a Berg-Wahlberg hat trick of three strong films all based on true stories filled with tough action and patriotic themes. The title refers to the day the Boston Marathon is held, so the tragedy occurred on that day. It’s also a state holiday in Massachusetts commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Characters mention other more social Patriot’s Day traditions in the film and David Ortiz makes a cameo as the Boston Red Sox play a baseball game every Patriot’s Day. Audiences get an accurate scope of the local settings, resources and people these leaders address to keep the city’s people safe. Filmmakers used the same Boston Massachusetts locations.
Based on the book Boston Strong by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge and screen-written by Berg, Matt Cook (Triple 9) and Joshua Zetumer (Robocop), Patriot’s Day comes recommended and is rated R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use. It’s a memorable example of how hate defeats itself; love binds and communities can regenerate. A related film about this tragedy named Stronger starring Jake Gyllenhall will release later this year.