Release date: 23rd February 2017/Watch the trailer here
The third ‘true story’ collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, following 2013’s Lone Survivor and last year’s Deepwater Horizon; Patriots Day follows the events of the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent manhunt for the two men that were responsible.
It feels strange watching a dramatisation of the events that many of us watched playing out in real life less than four years ago. It’s certainly arguable whether Patriots Day was a film that really needed to be made – or at least whether it needed to be made quite so soon – but for the most part, it manages to deal with the events of 15th April 2013 and the week that followed sensitively, in a way that feels respectful to the victims of the attack.
At the heart of it all is Mark Wahlberg as Boston police officer Tommy Saunders, a fictional amalgamation of a number of real-life officers – and if there is one major flaw in Patriots Day, it’s Wahlberg. His bizarrely omnipresent character is clearly intended as a way to carry the film’s narrative by giving the audience one central character to follow, but it begins to feel like Wahlberg is attempting to have his own hero moment. While it’s believable that his character might have been present at the marathon finish line, he then continues to be first on the scene at every critical moment, to the point when he is called in especially by the FBI (led by Kevin Bacon’s Richard DesLauriers) for his exclusive knowledge of the streets and security cameras of Boston, as if Google doesn’t exist.
Still, the rest of the cast are somewhat more tactful in their performances, with a supporting cast that includes John Goodman as police commissioner Ed Davis and J.K. Simmons as Watertown sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese. Patriots Day also admirably dedicates a sizeable portion of its runtime to some of the survivors of the bombings, and when we hear from the real-life faces of these survivors at the end of the film, it makes for a touching moment that is handled tastefully.
That’s not to say that all of Patriots Day is quite so tasteful, though – it can’t resist the inevitable temptation of cheesiness, and while the action scenes – most notably, the shootout in Watertown between the police and the two bombers – are exciting and suspenseful, there’s something that feels slightly wrong about turning a tragic event in which people lost their lives into an action movie that Michael Bay would be proud of.
For the most part, however, Patriots Day achieves what it sets out to do: a reasonably accurate re-telling of what happened, with little room for Hollywood flair but plenty for patriotism and celebrating its heroes. It doesn’t act as proof that we need someone to rush out and make a movie as soon as tragedy strikes, but at least Berg and his cast have done so professionally and respectfully. It’s clear that Berg, and particularly Wahlberg, have a lot of reverence for the city of Boston, its civilians and its uniformed personnel, and if they believed that this was the right way to honour these people, then at least they’ve made a largely effective and mostly good film in the process.