Patriots Day (2016) – Film Review

“Each role feels lived-in, genuine, real—not just stars playing these people, but translations of the people, themselves.”

One has to be careful with how “historical” films like this are crafted; studios choosing when to green-light a production is the first step, but it’s up to the filmmakers how to tell such stories in an engaging yet respectful manner.

I don’t really remember the bombings in Boston. It’s odd—I remember September 11th (even though I was just a second-grader), but I was basically going into this film with new eyes. I can recall the end of it all, when the younger Tzarnaev brother was apprehended, but not much else, other than the initial attack. For me, at least, it made the experience of the film all the more genuine.

This is a very different film than I’ve seen from Peter Berg before—after all, this is the guy that brought us Battleship (not knocking it…). Lone Survivor was good, but this film is more…dramatic. Again, Mark Wahlberg is in the forefront, this time assuming the role of BPD Detective Tommy Saunders. He is relatable, likeable, a singular “protagonist” for the audience to cling to through all the chaos. On the frontline of the continuing hunt for the terrorists, we see most of the film through Saunders’s eyes…and a surprising amount from the viewpoint of the aforementioned brothers. Mind you, there is no sympathy to be drawn from these asides; they are simply meant to give another angle on the story that is unfolding. This “characterized” the terrorists, while still holding them at arm’s-length. The rest of the casting is on-point, too, from John Goodman as the Boston Police Commissioner, to a surprise appearance from Kevin Bacon as Federal Agent Richard DesLauriers. Each role feels lived-in, genuine, real—not just stars playing these people, but translations of the people, themselves.

Cinematically, this film is very well-done. It begins by telling the backstories of some of the people closest to the blasts—the evening before and the morning of the attack—all the while incorporating real photography and same-day footage. I have a soft spot for the filmmakers going that extra mile for authenticity. The pacing is great, as well, not lingering on or brushing over any particular instance, accompanied by an edgy and exhilarating score. All this gives context and deepens the pathos that climaxes in the closing minutes of the film. There are truly touching end dedications, as well, for the victims and first-responders.

I was grabbed by the behind-the-scenes action of the ongoing FBI investigation. DesLauriers and his team are on the ground and in control almost immediately, and waste no time getting to work. That said, there is a lot of appropriate humor injected into the dialogue—necessary in keeping such a dark topic as domestic terrorism palatable for the common audience. It all culminates in a single message: the power of the human spirit in times of crisis and the strength of people—civilians, law enforcement, et cetera—when we come together. It’s an inspiring truth; we are, indeed, stronger together than we are alone. We are all human, much as we fight one another over our petty differences. That is the story that the filmmakers choose to tell here—a story of hope and courage when it was needed most.

Patriots Day receives a ****/* final ‘Risk Assessment.

Next review: The Bye Bye Man

Written by Evan Kern

Just a twenty-something filmie trudging through adulthood. Taking it day by day, movie by movie. Words are life...

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