AFI Fest Review: Patriots Day is a Berg’s love letter to Bostonians.
Patriots Day is the big-screen recreation of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The film is directed by Peter Berg, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Johnson, Joshua Zetumer, and Matt Cook. Patriots Day is an inside look at how the bombing affected the residents of Boston as well as the city of Watertown that surrounds it. The film opens around 12 hours before the explosion and ends a few days after the capture of the two brothers who planned the attack.
Films based on actual events are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. It seems like at least once a month there is a new film released based on someone’s life or inspired by true events. Patriots Day is one of those films, but its subject matter could easily be viewed as “too soon” for some viewers. The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing in still very fresh in our minds and I am sure there are several people in Boston who are still trying to overcome the trauma from April 15, 2013.
Patriots Day is something that the citizens of Boston will be proud of. Berg and his script writers showcase the lives of several people involved in the bombing and how it impacted their lives. The civilians shown in the film include Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea), Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan), Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), and Li (Lana Condor), just to name a few. While actors are portraying these individuals, the real survivors do make an appearance in the film during the film’s end credits. It was extremely refreshing to see that the writers chose to play tribute to the civilians who were part of the attack. This makes the film feel genuine and inspiring as though it was Berg’s way of crafting a love letter to the city of Boston.
While the civilians play an active role in this story, the vast major of the runtime it is spent with those behind the scenes like the police officers, special agents, and government officials. Mark Wahlberg portrays Sgt. Tommy Saunders, a fictionalize character that is rumored to be a combination of many of the police officers who served at the marathon that day. While Wahlberg gets the most screen-time, I wouldn’t exactly say that he is the film’s star. The film is more of an ensemble piece that includes notable performances from J.K. Simmons (Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese), John Goodman (Commissioner Ed Davis), Kevin Bacon (Richard DesLauriers), and Michelle Monaghan (Carol Saunders).
Interestingly enough, the film does spend quite a bit of time focused on the two terrorist brothers that planned the attack. Alex Wolff plays Dzhokhar Tsarnaev while Themo Melikidze portrays Tamerlan Tsarnaev. These two actors did a great job playing two very unlikable individuals that showed no remorse for their actions. I do have to point out, however, that while these two actors handled their roles well, I did feel there was a bit too much liberty taken within their conversations.
There is one scene where the two openly mock Dun Meng’s accent and earlier in that same scene they talk about how 9/11 was an inside job to make American’s hate Muslims. While there are plenty of theories behind the events of September 11, I do feel like adding this conversation into the film was done solely to insinuate how bad these two guys were. This felt unnecessary because people are already angry at them without needing any extra reasons to be. There are about two or three conversations like this that just seemed like overkill and were unnecessary in my eyes.
Another negative about the film is that it contains too many forced movie moments that ultimately took me out of the film and messed with the film’s overall tone. I understand that the story wants to lighten the mood from time to time, but we don’t need moments like when Tommy Saunders questions Dun Meng and Dun screams out “go catch these mother fuckers.” It was so distracting and almost jarring in a way. It felt very out of place. There are about five or six other moments like this that range from cliched Boston jokes such as how Bostonians pronounce socks to just silly one-liners like “I need to quit smoking.” Again, I understand trying to lighten the mood or pay respect to the people but these moments were distracting and felt out of place.
I feel like the film’s smaller moments were the strongest. Those simple scenes where two characters are sharing stories worked so well as did moments where people stood around planning or thinking out loud. The scene where Tommy is brought down to the warehouse to help retrace the route that the bombers came to the marathon was so well-crafted and executed. The interrogation scene between Katherine Russell (Melissa Benoist) and the police interrogator was gripping and intense. As an audience member, I could feel the immense amount of anger that the interrogator had with Katherine every time she had to ask, “are there any more bombs?”
Berg does a great job of mixing up the drama with the action. While the smaller moments work wonders, there is no denying that there are several great action moments worked in. The shoot-out scene that occurs on Laurel Avenue between several police officers and the bombers is intense and captured so perfectly. This scene could easily be one of the most exciting police shoot out scenes captured on film in the past decade.
Minor flaws aside, Patriots Day is one of the best big-budget historical retellings in recent memory. 2016 has been a fantastic year for Berg with two great films inspired by real events. He is a talented director who isn’t afraid to be the first to tackle serious tragic subject matters and somehow manages to do so with such great conviction.
All in all, Patriots Day is a powerful depiction that is handled with grace and dedication. The film is extremely respectful to the lives that were forever changed by the events on April 15, 2013. Berg presents us with an honest interpretation of what it was like to be at the marathon when all hell broke lose. He handles all those moments with the utmost respect and care. He gives us glimpses of the aftermath but never exploits them. He shows audiences all over the world what it truly means to be “Boston Strong” and what real heroes look like.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s final rating for Patriots Day is a 8 out of 10.