Synopsis – An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.
My Take – Films based on true stories have slowly turning into a genre itself, well of course when the audience reception has been so overwhelming, why not? I guess most of us are fascinated to watch the events they lived/ heard/ read about portrayed on the big screen, along with the stories of the people they admired unfolding through celluloid. It sure is fascinating to find out the disconnect between truth and fiction with these adaptations, but also because stories that are at least “inspired by” true events often strike a more powerful chord than those which are completely fictional. This film scripted by Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer, directed by Peter Berg, the story focuses on the Boston marathon bombing attack in spring 2013 and the aftermath of that unspeakable tragedy. For those who don’t hail from Massachusetts, Wisconsin or Maine, or U.S.A itself, the title is a holiday celebrated on the third Monday in April, which commemorates the battles fought in Lexington and Concord during the Revolutionary War. In the city of Boston, the holiday coincides with the iconic Boston Marathon. The date is so important to the city of Boston that the Boston Red Sox have been scheduled to play at home on that date since 1959. On the fateful day of April 15, 2013, two extremist brothers set off two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured 264 others. This heinous act helped give birth to the fitting phrase Boston Strong, with this film shining a much-needed light on the unsung heroes who brought down these terrorists in an incredibly short amount of time. While this powerful film is not the emotional roller coaster I was expecting, this is a quality manhunt/investigation drama that specifically honors the brave police officers and citizens of the city of Boston. The film plays out like an ensemble piece, with the story divided into chunks, focusing on different characters at different times leading-up to one of the most terrifying and empowering events in recent American history and through the manhunt that followed.
The story follows Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), a composite figure cobbled together from several real-life members of the city’s police department. He’s a sort of regular-guy cipher, a man with a loving wife Carol (Michelle Monaghan), a bum knee, and a strong nostalgic streak. Saunders also happens to be subject to some kind of sketchily explained disciplinary action at work, which is apparently why police commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) has him working the finish line on the day of the marathon. The film also tracks a number of Bostonians who found themselves at the center of these tragic events—not only law-enforcement officers but also residents who wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time, among them, Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan) and Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea), a young married couple who were near the site and each lost a leg in the blast, a father with his three year old son and a lonely Chinese immigrant Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang). Once, the brothers behind the pressure-cooker bombs, Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) Tsarnaev, act out their plans, FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) steps in to head up the frantic search, with clutch on-the-ground assistance from Saunders and Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons), the police chief of Watertown, a nearby community to which the Tsarnaevs eventually flee. The film starts off with immediately. There is no sort of fluff to this film, it starts off trying to be as realistic as possible and it achieves this tenfold. It starts on the morning of April 15, 2013 as a beautiful day. Once the film is done getting us acclimated to these people…it happens and when it happens, it is horrifying. The explosion is LOUD. There is no lead up to it, it felt like it did in real life, and it’s a shock. From this moment on, the film kicks into a high-octane race against time thriller more in the vein of Zero Dark Thirty. The film itself is Peter Berg’s best work and is every bit as thrilling and gut-wrenching as it is heartbreaking yet uplifting simultaneously. There is a clear cut love for this film by its maker and it absolutely pays off. The drama is every bit as riveting as the brutal action sequences (especially the final confrontation). There are many aspects that I’m sure Peter Berg had to take into consideration in the process of making this film, there are several fine lines, questions of how to make this sensitive towards the families of the victims, how to make sure that the film doesn’t come across as just being action, and how to make sure they tell the story in way that emphasizes what tragedies like this often does which is bring people together. And so I think the film is a testament to Peter Berg’s strength as a storyteller. The whole thing is staged in such way that immediately takes us back to how it happened three years ago, no sugarcoating, no dumbing down; it even amplifies that unfiltered Boston attitude to the degree which I haven’t seen before in any other film. The film at times goes into investigative mode, so it gets riveting, which I think is important because the collaboration and the conflict and the banter between law enforcement agencies did play an integral role on how the event ultimately concluded. It’s stirring, then, to discover at the end of the film, when the actual people portrayed in the film tell their own stories, that Downes has since run the marathon with the help of a prosthetic, and to see people working together to try to protect Bostonians. It’s remarkable to imagine the training and selflessness that led, eventually, to the arrest of the Tsarnaev brothers, who were allegedly en route to New York City with bombs when they were finally captured. The ostensible protagonist might not feel wholly authentic, but Berg, puts into play many characters that do, allowing the film to credibly approximate a sense of metropolitan bustle.
In one of the film’s tensest exchanges, DesLauriers furiously lashes out after he receives word that pictures of the suspects, which he doesn’t yet want to go public, have leaked to the press. It’s a sharp illustration of the many spheres of influence, both federal and local, that this particular investigation has brought into collision, making for inevitable crossed signals up the chain of command. Refusing a wholehearted endorsement of operational & real politics, Berg also doesn’t overlook the unsavory side of some of the methods used to expedite the Tsarnaevs’ capture: Saunders reacts with disbelief when he’s told not to mirandize the suspects should he come across them; after Deval Patrick (Michael Beach), the governor of Massachusetts, makes the call to put the capital on lockdown, someone in the war room squeamishly asks if he’s really comfortable with a measure that skirts so close to martial law. The most obviously fraught aspect of the film is its handling of the Tsarnaevs, who were motivated in their actions, at least partly, by a conversion to radical Islam. The film smartly (and responsibly) suggests that both men have personal reasons for this attraction to radicalism; it’s about the lightest handling possible save for one scene with Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife, Katherine Russell (Melissa Benoist). The bombings, in the view of the film, were not about a conflict of ideologies or domestic terrorism, but essentially an assault on the famously and fiercely proud spirit of Boston. What motivated the brothers is almost beside the point, because that’s not the story the film is telling. The film doesn’t display much interest in exploring the siblings’ motives, but neither does it paint these dead-eyed culprits in broad stock-villain strokes. I would be lying if I said the film didn’t make me tear up, flinch, suck my teeth, and almost cover my face. I also wasn’t the only one who reacted emotionally to the film at the press screening. The film’s examples of selflessness are so powerful and the violence so graphic. In one scene, you see a police officer nearly die in a shootout with a terrorist; in another, you are looking at a bloody limb or a crying toddler. The film has no shortage of such charged images. That’s part of what makes the film feel a tad manipulative. No matter how tough you think you are, won’t your gut tighten at least once after 133 minutes of tension and bloodshed? And, true, the film’s final attack is bookended by a couple of emotional moments that don’t quite work – one a scene of Wahlberg delivering a long, reflective speech and the other a closing sequence that lingers over interviews with some of the attack’s survivors. But if we don’t need those scenes only because they tell us things the film has already boldly shown us. Kudos to all the actors involved, especially Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff who have the heavy burden of portraying the murderers. Wolff, in particular, gives one of the film’s best performances as Dzhokhar, a case study in detachment and casual malice; after a carjacking in which he forces the victim to stay in the vehicle, Wolff made it look like Dzhokhar has the chilling absence of mind to ask if there’s Bluetooth on board so he can listen to the music on his phone. Mark Wahlberg gives his absolute all in this role. J.K. Simmons is another phenomenal actor in this film that gives a perfect performance as Jeffrey Pugliese. Melissa Benoist is diabolical. In supporting roles, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan, Christopher O’Shea, Rachel Brosnahan, Jake Picking, Lana Condor, Michael Beach and Jimmy O. Yang stand out. On the whole, ‘Patriots Day’ is a vigorous, powerful, and deeply moving film that’s part procedural part thriller with all around great performances.
Directed – Peter Berg
Rated – R
Run Time – 133 minutes