Patriots Day (2017) (Review)

Patriots Day details the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent manhunt for the two perpetrators, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, reuniting after their work in Deepwater Horizon last year. The drama-thriller film, based on the book Boston Strong by Casey Sherman and David Wedge, with Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zatumer adapting the screenplay, is one of two films based on the terrorist event set to be released in the space of a year. Alongside Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon and Michelle Monaghan star in the once Oscar hot-favourite.

Widespread panic is caused after two bombs are detonated during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Bacon) is assigned to investigate the bombings and soon discovers its terrorist intentions and is required to work in collaboration with Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (Goodman), Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffery Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) and Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg). When the two suspects are identified as brothers Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerian Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) and the threat of more bombings increases, the FBI and Boston Police Department must race to find the brothers before another national tragedy.

Adapting distressing events such as the one depicted in Patriots Day is a very difficult thing to handle; on one hand, the importance of honouring and paying respect to the friends and families of their loved ones injured or killed in the events should be paramount, as anything less than a dignified translation of events can be drawn up as a tasteless money-grab; on the other hand, people don't come to the movies to see a rehashing of real-life events, mainly wanting a slice of escapism, and Patriot's Day handles the two rather effectively. Despite the dark time illustrated, Patriots Day borrows from its titular noun and converts to the adjective, offering a patriotic musing on what it means to be America - unity, community and strength. Occasionally, it tips towards this uplifting ideal more so than it probably needs to, but I'd rather it do this than fall the other way and become something of a senseless and insensitive picture simply designed to earn money. Its structure successfully merges several narrative strands over the course of its 133 minute runtime, having characters meet at various times throughout and deftly delivering a seemingly scattershot narrative with a real sense of cohesion and intensity. Because of this and despite initial concerns, Patriots Day covers a lot of narrative ground and never overstays its welcome, effectively paced with a real momentum and drive. It's not a spoiler to discuss the explosion per se and although you know we could be seconds away from it at any given moment, it still manages to jolt, inflict a thunderbolt of dread and shock upon you, playing out with genuine verisimilitude.

We see a range of solid, if unspectacular, performances from a notably male cast. Wahlberg is committed, although not 'leading man' material in this role, with Goodman often overshadowing in a louder, brasher showcase. J.K. Simmons, appearing out of nowhere, is solid enough in his few minutes of screen time, while Kevin Bacon is equally as limited but decent enough. Wolff and Melkidze, playing the terrorist brothers, are a little one-note in the way they are sketched (and I'm not too sure how I feel about this) but deliver dedicated performances; these scenes are often the most compelling of the narrative, crafted with a real intensity and becoming the most insightful of the picturing, adding some depth otherwise missed or unknown at the time the events were unfolding. Their conversations and intentions are as harrowing as expected and its because of the delivery of the two actors that is becomes so efficient, although the film doesn't bother with anything too complex beyond the where and how when it comes to the pair. Director and co-writer Peter Berg utilises archive footage of the event productively and it is seamlessly incorporated into the action for the most part, offering a realistic and grounding portrayal of the minutes directly before and after the tragedy. After worrying the film's score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who also mastered one of my favourite of all-time, Gone Girl) was too overwhelming in the film's first twenty minutes, it generally settles down and does an honourable job of scoring the moments terrifically.

Patriots Day's script isn't the most well-realised and appears to be at a disadvantage with three people chipping in to write it: particularly during the second act, it has a habit of introducing apparently important characters only to drop them when it heads in a different direction, or losing its trail of thoughts. It is sometimes an ill-defined hybrid of conventions and genres that never understands where to sit, muddying the waters and lacking a sense of clarity - if only it was as focused tonally as it is thematically. In this middle stretch, it never really decides the story it wants to be telling and only manages to rectify this towards the end of the second act and admittedly does so effectively, finding its feet ready for the final act. All of the lines afforded to Mark Wahlberg's character seem to be ripped from any other film that features a disaster like this one, offering frantic cries of 'close the perimeter!', 'shut it down!', or 'we need that ambulance now'; these lines are the most 'Hollywood' the films becomes and this charade pretty much defines his stereotypical character's story and arc. Uncomfortable 'comedy' elements are presented too, upsetting the pace and tone of a scene for the sake of adding some light to the dark; its comedic side is incongruous, very rarely translating well and is the only time it comes close to being inconsiderate. Aside from this, my biggest issue with this film is that while I'm glad it is well-meaning and and told with feeling, it perhaps is a little too fresh in our memory to be as effective as it could have been, especially given how by-the-numbers it feels. Maybe that's just me, and with another similarly-related film coming soon it would suggest so, but an opportunity presented itself and I think the film-makers jumped in too soon in all honesty.

'Solid' is the best way to describe Patriot's Day - that not an inspired description, but neither is the film particularly, delivering surface level information and only that a little deeper; peeling back the layers could have revealed more but maybe they're saving something for the upcoming 'Stronger', featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany. Its performances are decent enough all-round; the script is a little weak but the execution makes up for that, streamlining different narrative strands into an often powerful, suspense drama-thriller that is never as exploitative as feared. Perhaps too recent in audience's memory to have the most profound impact (and probably a reason as to why it hasn't connected with audiences) Patriot's Day is skewed as a national validation rather than a tragedy and can be appreciated for this slant; it is consistently decent but rarely anything more.


Summary: An inspiring tale of community and unity, Patriot's Day is a generally solid true-life story that translates the Boston Bombings and its fallout with respect - but it is perhaps a little too fresh in audiences' minds to be as powerful as intended.

Highlight: The play-out of the explosion is really terrific - I wish the film could maintain this standard but it's not too far away.