"Patriots Day" is the second 2016 film to be directed by Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, the first being "Deepwater Horizon". This movie is based off of the true events that took place during the Boston Marathon on April 15th 2013, it being all about the bombing near the finish line as well as the manhunt that went underway for the two terrorists responsible. Along with Wahlberg, you have John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, and Michelle Monaghan in supporting roles.
I very much remember the day of the Boston Marathon Bombings. It was in my junior year of high school and it was right in the middle of the day when the news broke. It was actually quite a big deal for a lot of people on campus and it even got to a point where my seventh period Spanish class put a halt to all of our studies just so we could watch coverage of the incident on CNN. I even remember following the manhunt and everything that unfolded in the days after the bombing. Needless to say, this is an event that's still very fresh in a lot of people's minds, which has lead to some controversy regarding the release of this movie. Me personally, I'm fine with any true story being told so long as its handled with class and respect. So, does "Patriots Day" do that? Well, in some areas yes, and in others, no, so let's talk about what I mean.
My biggest problem with this movie is the decision to make Mark Wahlberg play a fictional character instead of a real one. His character is a cop named Tommy Saunders and I just couldn't connect with him considering that the entire role just felt like Peter Berg was circle-jerking his buddy Marky Mark as some American hero who could've stopped was is essentially the biggest terror attack on American soil since 9/11. There are so many incredible stories of real life heroes on that day and the movie would've been so much more emotionally resonant if it focused on an actual cop who saved a life or any other onlooker who rushed into the fray to help the wounded. Instead we get Wahlberg giving a good performance, but the role itself just felt too indulgent to be effective.
Another issue I have with this film is that I feel it tries a little too hard to be a moving tribute to both the victims and America as a whole. For example, there's a small segment in the movie dedicated to the real life MIT officer who was killed by the terrorists just a few days after the bombing. It's a necessary tribute for a fallen police officer, but it still heavily disrupts the flow of the narrative from a storytelling perspective. And in the movie's attempt to act as a tribute to America, things eventually start to feel overly jingoistic. A good example of this is an interrogation scene that takes place in the film. It's necessary for the story to play out, but the way the scene was handled made it feel overdone with it's "Go America, fuck everyone else" attitude. It just felt conflicting when mixed with stuff that is otherwise a decent tribute.
These problems I have don't take away from the good stuff in this movie, because there are some legitimately effective moments from Peter Berg. The build-up and aftermath of the bombing is very nerve-wracking and tragic, the shootout between the terrorists and the cops is a truly intense, and aspects of the investigation are genuinely interesting in some scenes. It's in these moments that we get to see the potential with Berg, the potential that we saw more of in "Deepwater Horizon".
I also appreciated this movie's overall message of good people coming together in times of crisis. Granted, there are some tonal and narrative inconsistencies within the story, but by the end of the film, you see that there's still good intent from the film-makers. This movie hits home the idea that tragedies like this can bring out the very best in people and that everyone, regardless of race, gender, and other differences, is all one collective species that should try to live together with good will towards others. If only the movie was just more consistent with being a great tribute in every scene.
Overall, "Patriots Day" was a noble effort to retell this story and honor the victims, but it's not always well constructed in its narrative, and it also occasionally falters to some of Peter Berg's weaknesses, one of them being his occasional foray into being an overly-patriotic jingoist who shields his feelings with an American flag. This isn't a bad movie by any means, but If I were directly asked if I liked the movie as a whole, the answer would be a solid no.