April 15th, 2013. Another event that changed America occurred at the yearly Boston Marathon where six people were killed and hundreds more injured as two bombs, seconds apart, ripped through the crowds and runners at the finish line of the historic sports event. Such was the heroism and community solidarity that it was inevitable it would be brought into the realm of drama to pay tribute to the those involved and to the city itself and in the hands of Mark Wahlberg, Bostonian born-and-bred, and director Peter Berg the heroes have been given a powerful and moving cinematic remembrance in Patriots Day.
Wahlberg leads the cast as Tommy Saunders, a local Boston policeman who is slowly recovering from a knee injury and one of his first assignments back on the job is on the finishing line of the race (we should point out that his character while fictional is a conglomeration of several real-time Boston policemen who were on duty that day). As the bombs go off and the manhunt and investigations begin, Saunders is our eyes into the what happened and how the next few days played out as he and his fellow officers, as well as the FBI and intelligence agencies, try to piece together the road map that will lead them to those responsible.
Berg’s latest, like his earlier 2016 effort Deepwater Horizon, is similar both in tone and in set-up as he uses the real-life events to mold a story that serves both as a dramatic re-telling and as a tribute to those who lost their lives or indeed were involved on the ground in the aftermath. As with Horizon, there are sure to have been some dramatic licenses taken to mold the film into a riveting drama and there are many we’re sure that would perhaps speak about such moves, but it doing so once more Berg and co have managed to merge both very successfully. Using hand-held, documentary-style camerawork to fully immerse you in the situation, there’s a real urgency to the film that keeps the tension palpable from all sides of the story, be it the investigation, the hospital scenes or indeed as the police go toe-to-toe with the perpetrators in a street-side shootout.
Adding to the realism is the superb cast with a fantastic anchoring performance from Wahlberg. He rarely gets the credit he deserves for his acting but as with Horizon the actor is superb in the lead role, perhaps his best work since The Departed and like that film it’s perhaps the personal attachment to the story as a Boston-boy that raises his game even further. The trifecta behind him of Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and J.K. Simmons add gravitas and poignancy to proceedings as you would expect with Simmons in particular at the peak of his powers here.
There are some moments that are out of place as they serve the drama rather than the true narrative (the fictional Saunders becoming a quasi-CSI agent to help solve the riddles seems particularly out of place) which threaten to derail the film but it returns to an even keel as the final dramatic moments play out with a shoot-out on a local street mightily impressive and more accurate than we may know.
Still, you can just about forgive such dramatic fodder for the film as the some of its parts is stirring and dramatic while simultaneously honouring those whose lives changed on that fateful day in 2013. Berg’s lively style suitably fits the story and with Wahlberg, Simmons et al further enhancing the film’s undoubted qualities, Patriots Day is a worthy and thoughtful retelling of a tragic day in Boston.