Patriots Day is the well-meaning that’s for sure. But in a sense is heralds in a new era of American movies that will no doubt be introspective and self indulgent. Maybe they will have to invent a new rating AO (Americans Onlyt).
Strangely it truly believes itself to be a kind of finest-hour prestige effort about everyday heroism. It’s a stylized and wello meaning attempt to recreate the Boston bombings.. But one can’t help but think about the intent of this movie. What is Peter Berg’s game here? An action flick as public tribute?
The history of the Boston Bombings is recent, but the world has moved on to fresh and greater terrors. The brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev each left backpacks at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, intended to harm and kill as many people as possible. For several days, the city of Boston went through lockdown and panic in the search for the Tsarnaevs, before Tamerlan was killed in a firefight and Dzhokhar was found and apprehended in the back of a boat in Watertown.
In re-enacting the bombing, Berg re-stages the event in an authentic digital manner that’s both impressive and uncomfortably anxious. He pulls punches, sparing the viewer from the most graphic violence, and yet creates a shock effect that works through other means: quick shots of panic and terror, hallucinatory debris, cuts faster than gunfire. It’s well managed visually.
After the blast, the film begins to resemble Zero Dark Thirty at whiplash speed, chasing the Tsarnaevs (Alex Wolff as Dzhokhar and Themo Melikidze as Tamerlan) through every corner of Boston. The FBI, local police, and government powers of Boston work together to capture them.
Patriots Day loves its imaginary hero Tommy, and Wahlberg gets almost as much screen time as the rest of the film’s cast. If the film is a celebration of a city coming together in the face of true terror, then Saunders as an easy, unrealistic through-line to get big parts of the story together seems cheap. He’s on the radio giving orders at the blast. He’s the one telling officers to collect phones and triaging medics. He suggests interviews with witnesses and everyone listens. He recreates the Tsarnaevs’ walking paths in his head for the FBI. As a person, he checks of all the requisite Boston clichés, calling patrolmen “chowder heads,” organizing his Red Sox cards, dragging low vowels.
And the locals all fight back in different ways. Meng was kidnapped by the Tsarnaevs for his car, and Berg manages to take the truth of Meng’s escape and turn it into a taut sequence with a satisfying last laugh. Pugliese tackled Tamerlan in the shootout on Laurel St., but Berg shrewdly avoids making him over the top by developing Simmons as an average guy who smokes and tells jokes.
Patriots Day is a fence sitter between exploitation and tribute. The star power is uncertain, and the action fierce, but Berg means well and likes the people in his recount.