Patriots Day (2017)

Final Rating- 6/10

How do you talk critically about a film that deals with a real life tragedy that occurred only a few short years ago? Is it possible to say a film is unnecessary and bloated without coming across as pro-terror? Following in the trend of such films like United 93, Sully and Deepwater Horizon (a film that came out earlier this year repeating the Pete Berg/Mark Wahlberg tandem also behind Patriots Day) that turns recent disasters into feature films for profit. While it is a troubling trend, let’s not pretend like it is something recent as Saved From The Titanic was released only 29 days after the sinking of the titular ship back in 1912. Despite going into the film not wanting to condone such sensationalist material for the most part, it is actually quite good and the finished product is even mostly tactfully handled.

The film is described as being centered on Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and the unbelievable stress and pressure put upon him to ensure those responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings were found and apprehended. While the overview of the story does in fact tell that, the plot is much more focused on Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) making him a composition character and using him as the everyman used as the audience surrogate. The film also follows all the other major players in the story from way before the marathon to the after effects including runners who were hit (but survived) by the explosions, the driver who was carjacked by the terrorists, the MIT campus police officer who sadly was shot and killed for his gun and the terrorists and their families too.

One thing you will be shocked to hear is this film is actually really, really funny. It sounds like an oxymoron that a true life crime story only three plus years removed from the event would have as much humour as it does, but believe it the small but full theatre was howling at times with laughter. The truth behind this revelation is that is the characters are Bostonian in their strength but also in their trademark self-depreciation. The opening scene shows Saunders with two other cops trying to kick a door down but fails on the first try and ends up hyperextending his knee on the second attempt and is continuously mocked for the rest of the film for being too old for that shit and needing a knee brace.

One of the things that doesn’t work is the need to give on screen captions letting the viewer know where the new scene is set and the time in relation to the bombing as it plays out like the show 24, which took the worst ideas of Bush Administration policies, like torture, and made them seem normal and it is hard not to wonder what some of the police officers are thinking about if they catch the bombers. It is overdone and used in almost every scene to the point where the audience just gets it; it’s been about an hour and the setting is a block away.

The film does an excellent job using various sources for filming as CCTV cameras start showing angels before the incident and are used later on to track the suspects. You also get plenty of TV camera shots, as the marathon is filmed, which gets you some very interesting helicopter aerial angles and footage being shown screened on TV’s and monitors around the race. After a certain point, especially the immediate aftermath of the explosion it is hard to tell what was filmed specifically for the movie and what was possibly gathered from various outlets of actual footage.

A conflicting aspect of the film is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for the film. On the surface just listening to the pulsing electronic beats, the music is fabulous and creates a unique landscape that keeps your heart beating fast. On the flip side much like my earlier derision comparing the clock watching 24-esque, the music is just a little too rah-rah upbeat reminiscent of a score that would be more in place of a James Bond film where you can have carnal thoughts about killing the bad guys, in real life we should be chastised for being so blood thirsty.

Mark Wahlberg has never been a favourite actor of mine, as he is a little one note most of the time. When he is in the right film with the right director it works, his tough as nails foul mouthed Dignam from The Departed was rewarded rightfully with an Oscar nomination and the spin on his hyper masculinity as Terry Hoitz in The Other Guys was surprisingly hilarious where most of the time his tough guy shtick gets old fast it didn’t here. Wahlberg is nearing his grizzled old man phase (by Hollywood standards) and he plays it up for great comedic effect while also grounding him in reality. At one point after being up all night after the bombing trying to assist in any way he can he finally gets to go home to his wife where he breaks down into tears describing the horror that he has seen, a range of emotion I didn’t think was possible from him.

The film manages to be tactful for most of the time until moments like when Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), the driver forced at gunpoint to drive the terrorists out of town manages to escape he gets an eye rolling hero’s handshake from Sgt. Saunders and he responds by asking the police to “Catch those mother fuckers” like an 80’s action catch phrase, which elicited groans from everyone.

The final showdown is an all out war in the middle of a residential street, with machine guns firing, grenades being tossed, small bombs being lit, cars being used as shields and even a hammer playing a part. Describing it seems very video game-y, which is an exact recreation of an earlier scene. When we are first being introduced to MIT Campus Police Officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking) he is back at home singing Zach Brown Band songs with his buddies as they drink beers and play a war video game, otherwise known as being quintessentially American. Fast forward to the shootout and the two scenes are paralleled exactly to the point you have to wonder what type of commentary Pete Berg is trying to say about America’s fascination with gun violence and war. The problem is that it isn’t clear; does he mean that war is ok when you’re in a desert country like Syria (a conflict that the terrorists use as justification of their attacks in the film) but when you are at home with row of clean cut homes, too many innocent people are in harms way? There is a powerful message buried in this, but it’s lack of clarity and the films target audience will completely over look it and instead want to cheer, drink Budweiser and sing songs about your truck and your woman.

The film desperately tries to show that an investigation like this is completely dependent on team work, and for the most part it succeeds by allowing minor characters to pop up and provide new and key information in the man hunt (something CSI never once considered doing). Unfortunately by the end it is clear that this is the Wahlberg show as this made up character seems to pop up at every key moment, from being first on the scene to collect key information from the kidnapped driver, to helping in the major shootout a town over from Boston and even being present at the final location where one of the suspects was hiding.

For a recent real life disaster film, it hits some great high notes and allowing enough humour in to not make the film a slog to get through while still showing enough dignity to the survivors and those that helped in the efforts of finding the terrorists. If only the audience was allowed to leave feeling happy without Berg using newly filmed interviews with all the major players to force feed the idea of heroism down our throats that makes every non-American cringe at every inopportune “U-S-A” chant that breaks out at head scratching moments.

About author

Music Editor at Live in Limbo and Host of Contra Zoom podcast. Dakota is a graduate of Humber College's Acting for Film and Television. He now specializes in knowing all random trivia. He writes about music, sports and film. Dakota's life goal is visit all baseball stadiums, he's at 7.