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I mentioned in my review of the newly Oscar nominated Hidden Figures that I really enjoy movies that are based on true stories. The events that unspool in that film are distant memories. The events in Patriots Day are very much not. They are fresh in memory which gives the movie a visceral, ripped-from-the-headlines feel. The movie grabs the audience’s attention from its opening scene and does not let go.
It is a very well put-together thriller.
Mark Wahlberg plays… Mark Wahlberg here or, at least, plays a version of Mark Wahlberg that seems to jive with his public persona. His Tommy Saunders is a true believer – in Boston, in loyalty, in God – who has made one or two bad decisions in his life. Poised to get back in the good graces of the Boston Police Department, and out of the blue uniform he had early shed in his promotion to detective, Saunders is working crowd control on the day of the bombing of the Boston Marathon. There to serve as something of a guard for the VIPs who run the race, Saunders becomes the man in the middle of the action when the bombs begin to explode.
Though Wahlberg’s Saunders is an amalgam of real Boston Police officers who were involved in the bombing and the subsequent investigation, the use of the character as a central point-of-view on which the audience can focus works well, though it strains credibility a bit in that Saunders is fairly central to many events of the time – perhaps too many to translate to true life. That being said, Wahlberg does a great job with the character and this is one of his best performances.
The rest of the cast from John Goodman to J.K. Simmons to Kevin Bacon (not to mention scene stealers Melissa Benoist and Khandi Alexander) are excellent. Simmons, in particular, is magnetic and provides some grounded comic relief for a movie depicting very dark events.
Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze have the difficult task of portraying the Tsarnaev brothers – the bombers. Both are up to the challenge and convey a deep evil mixed with a cavalier attitude about the taking of human life that felt at once shocking and all too real.
But Patriots Day is not a movie that focuses much on the motivations of the bombers or the political conditions that bring about tragedies like this one. Rather it focuses on the lives of the victims and the responders. And, while that decision works for the film, the movie misses a opportunity or two to take on some of the bigger questions behind terrible events like this. It keeps its lens pointed primarily at the heroes – the dead, the survivors, the cops and the FBI – and that choice works but lacks a certain depth.
Director Peter Berg does a remarkable job stringing together their stories while keeping the pace of the film moving forward. The movie takes place over a four day period and proceeds at something of a breathless pace. It really does keep the audience at the edge of their seats from the word “go.”
Be sure to stick around for the interviews with the real people involved in the bombing. This coda reminded me very much of the one that Clint Eastwood utilized so effectively in Sully, and it was very welcome.
Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg have made three movies based on real life events, Deepwater Horizon and Lone Survivor being the other two. This is the best of the bunch.
PATRIOTS DAY receives FOUR PATRIOTIC SALUTES out of a possible FIVE.