Posted by Jill Boniske aka Arty Chick on December 21, 2016
The Boston Marathon bombing is like so many of our recent tragedies. We remember where we were when it happened and were glued to the news, trying to come to terms with the horrifying display of carnage born from hatred. Then over the following days we watched and waited as the perpetrators were identified, killed, and captured. Patriots Day is essentially this story told through one Boston cop’s eyes. Mark Wallberg is Sgt. Tommy Saunders, a cop who’s made some mistakes and has been forced to be a Marathon traffic cop, so he just happens to be there when the bombs go off, which throws him into the middle of the hunt for the perps who may be planning more attacks. You know what’s going to happen, so there aren’t many surprises, but the film is fast paced with enough detail to make it extremely absorbing, and it works!
Though Saunders’s quest for redemption and justice is the center of the film, the story also highlights how other heroes were essential to catching the Tsarnaev brothers. From the Chinese man carjacked by them, who escaped and called 911, to the small town cop (JK Simmons) who joined a firefight and grabbed one brother. And inter-cut throughout are the stories of several of the victims before, during, and after the bombing, and the unseen story of the FBI and local cops battling over what to tell the public and how to coordinate the hunt. There are also several scenes with the Tsarnaev family, which are pretty much what we knew from the media reports, but give a face and distinct characters to the terrorists. And Boston seems like a character in this film, as the people come together to rise above the tragedy visited upon them.
Patriots Day is definitely emotionally manipulative, and the story, simplified by having the fictional Saunders at every key moment of the case, felt in retrospect a bit too contrived. But it surprised me by sucking me in. And credit must be given to the filmmakers for their handling of the material. I have to give a huge shout out to former co-worker Gabriel Fleming for his stellar editing on this film. I was impressed by it while watching and then utterly thrilled when I saw his name in the closing credits. (There is talk of Oscar nod!) And director Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor) has a way with “true stories” (especially with Mark Wallberg). The attention to detail, without overdoing the carnage, and the way he portrays the policemen who put their lives on the line to stop the terrorists make this a film that should appeal to wide audiences (No kids though. Nightmares.)
(Mainstream Chick’s take: I agree with Arty on this one. The movie is solid, providing a seemingly accurate overview of a tragedy that still feels very raw. April 15, 2013. Less than four years ago. That’s a pretty quick turnaround. The movie has a modern ‘historical drama’ vibe and I was impressed that it could still milk the tension – considering everyone knows how it all played out. The only thing that felt a bit — awkward, I guess — is knowing that Wahlberg’s character doesn’t really exist. It’s a composite of three Boston police officers. So when the movie draws to a close and we get to see some of the real people portrayed in the movie, the realization that there is no “Tommy” looms large. Is Patriots Day a must-see in the theaters? Probably not. But is it as good and authentic as we’re likely to get (documentaries notwithstanding) about the bombing and the manhunt that followed? Probably so. (And I second the shout-out on the excellent editing by our pal Gabe Fleming!)