By Reid Ramsey (January 14, 2017)
It never feels like long-form television though, and the action scenes are as intense as any action film that came out last year.
Peter Berg strikes again with another true story action movie “Patriots Day” (2017). Berg (“Deepwater Horizon” (2016) and “Lone Survivor” (2013)), who has recently developed a reputation of adapting current events to film, returns for his third collaboration with Mark Wahlberg. In “Patriots Day,” Wahlberg stars as a fictional Boston cop who helped resolve and hunt down the terrorists responsible for the 2013 Boston marathon bombing. Wahlberg’s Tommy Saunders not only ties the many narrative threads of Berg’s story together, but also acts as a stand-in for the true heroes of that event: the people of Boston.
You can question why this movie needed to be made when this was such a heavily documented event. You can question why Berg seems to have tightly cornered himself into this specific genre of film. You can even just decide that this type of movie is exploitative and should never be made (although you’ll have to reconsider some household favorites like “United 93” (2006) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)). The one aspect, however, that you can’t question when watching “Patriots Day” is the craft.
Berg weaves together an almost unbelievable amount of characters while maintaining a fairly high batting average—a few of the character lines were duds. The film intimately dives into many stories of the heroes, victims, and terrorists with (mostly) grace and aplomb. The opening introduces us to the major storylines including a loving couple preparing to watch the marathon, the humble Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese of Watertown (a Boston suburb) played by J.K. Simmons, a charming Chinese student, and the two terrorists themselves, among others. The success rate which Berg has while editing the many storylines together is astounding.
Berg mainly borrows his “Friday Night Lights” (TV 2006-2011) aesthetic with handheld camera, stylishly realistic dialogue, and his commitment to close-ups. Coming from the show, it makes sense that Berg could employ the same shooting and editing style to bring these stories together. It never feels like long-form television though, and the action scenes are as intense as any action film that came out last year.
All this being said, I myself am still a little resistant to movies of this genre. In fact, I low-key hated the “Patriots Day” trailer even though I maintained excitement to see the movie. The casting is also troubling at times. Alex Wolff (“The Naked Brothers Band”) plays Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and while he actually looks bizarrely like the 19-year-old Chechen terrorist, his casting never quite sat right with me.
While Berg hits hard with the violence and bureaucratic challenges of hunting domestic terrorists, he pulls back on the aspect that could have challenged viewers the most. For whatever reason, the movie semi-humanizes the terrorists. It could have fully humanized them and challenged the audience with the thought of them being ordinary people, or it could have not given them much story time at all. Instead it swings back to the middle and spends too little time with them to humanize them and too much time with them to do anything but somewhat encapsulate their acts.
People will ultimately leave “Patriots Day” reminded of the courage and love of the Boston community, as speechified by Wahlberg at one point. Unfortunately that courage and love will only be remembered in response to the acts of terror that for a few short days turned Boston and its suburbs into a war zone in April 2013.