Patriot's Day movie review: A refreshingly non-jingoistic take on Boston Marathon bombing
Peter Berg is an odd filmmaker – everything he attempts seems interesting on paper, but the final results render a strange aftertaste of underwhelming, forgettable filmmaking.
A cursory look at his previous work - Hancock, The Kingdom, Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon – gives the idea that he tackles fascinating, wide-ranging ideas but it’s hard to remember a single scene from the films.
His latest film Patriot’s Day is actually one of his better films, mostly because he dials down the jingoism that is prevalent in his filmmaking.
Patriot's Day chronicles the real life Boston Marathon bombing incident of 2013 – making this Berg’s third film based on a real life tragedy after Lone Survior and Deepwater Horizon. The film follows several lives including Tommy (Mark Wahlberg) a cop who was involved in discovering the identity of the person responsible for the massacre, his wife (Michelle Monaghan), an FBI agent (Kevin Bacon), the police commissioner (John Goodman), the police chief (JK Simmons) and the Tsarnaev brothers (Alex Wolff and Themo Melkidze) who masterminded the bombing.
The interesting thing about the film is the ‘tick tock’ style of narrative where time is constantly running out, forcing the characters to make quick decisions and jump from one lead to the other. It’s not entirely clear how true to life the investigation is represented in the film, but the execution is fairly thrilling as the massive manhunt for the terrorists kicks into gear.
Cleverly Berg incorporates real life surveillance footage right into the film to make it very documentary like. It adds some levity to the buildup of the suspense, and it’s a neat trick to keep you from telling the authentic parts of the film from the made up ones.
The Tsarnaevs are portrayed as fascinating, enigmatic characters who have an eerie deadpan calmness about them as they assemble the bombs. Although there’s some minor insight into their lives you wish there was more exploration into how and why these people became the way they were and proceeded to initiate such a brutal act. We see Dzhokhar as the pot-smoking idiot spouting conspiracy theories about the government lying to its citizens – a stereotypical portrayal but still shocking depiction that makes you wonder why college kids would think like this.
And with the younger brother being even more laid back it’s the polar opposite portrayal of the terrorists in Palestinian film Paradise Now which told a lot more with much less theatrics.
The downside is that if you have read a few articles about the incident you won’t find much more than you already know, and the epic failure of the online witch hunt for the perpetrators on various websites is completely ignored.
There are some obvious contrivances to the story of Patriot's Day to make things more emotional, particularly the dynamic between Tommy and his wife to keep the audiences engaged with these ‘everyman’ style people whom everyone can relate to in times of stress. Wahlberg himself is kind of dull, repeating the same shtick he did in Deepwater Horizon – a cocktail of resilience, gentleness and a penchant for going against the grain to save lives.
The repetitive acting pattern makes it clear that it’s time for Berg to divorce himself from Wahlberg if he intends to keep making good films.